A selection of works done across sixty years by the New York painter Alex Katz has left Tate St Ives for the opposite end of southern England. The upper galleries of Margateís recently opened Turner Contemporary (where the show continues until 13 January 2013) make a handsome destination. You pass from big windows that give onto the stark North Sea with its distant forests of wind farms, to enter two big skylit galleries, no less stirringly stark. In one, a six-metre-wide polyptych of girls in chic swimsuits, hot-hued against turquoise waters, looms over further imagery in a long vacation, blissed-out beach party, drop-dead-glamorous mode. The other gallery is dominated by an ocean panorama, looking across a huge, dark, cold Atlantic to a wooded Maine coast. You can feel Katzís six-inch brush at work, slathering on that swell of indigo, just as you are brought up against stout, compact blocks of flesh tone and magenta swimwear in the polyptych. These tactilities donít come through in reproductions of Katz. So you get to encounter some well laid paint, and these hefty, imposing marines shine back a new dignity on the seaside without, as you step back into melancholic Margate. Maybe they encourage you to complete your visit with some supplementary spending; the gallery, visitor and painter are all contributing to the ĎSouth Coast regenerationí effect. Yet my experience on some level nags at me. An improper question keeps surfacing. Is this as good as it gets? Is it enough for paintings to be functioning participants in this closed circle of satisfaction?
LRB 8 November 2012 | PDF Download