new-york

Alex Katz

Whitney Museum of American Art

It used to be, back in the ’50s, that the body language of Alex Katz’s painted figures bespoke an expectation of loss. Very still, their stillness in fact exaggerated by their half-buried, faltering outlines, their arms would often hang limply at their sides, hands empty, redundant, as in Frank O’Hara, 1959–60, and Paul Taylor, 1959. The Double Portrait of Robert Rauschenberg, 1959, shows the artist seated, one hand thrust between his legs, in the classic “barrier signal” pose described by Desmond Morris as metaphorically protective of the genitals.

By the early ’60s the loss has occurred. Hands and arms are often deleted, and in exchange, a fully blown social life has been provided for the figure. This is signaled by a more detailed background scene and a new particularity about clothes, a possible jump from working-class or classless outfits to upper-middle-class ones, from Paul Taylor’s

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