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Columns at museum's entrance

Not Just a Pretty Face: Christy Turlington by Alex Katz

Asma Naeem
January 2, 2018
Brightly colored graphic painting of a woman in a black dress
Black Dress (Christy)  / Alex Katz / 2015 / Naitonal Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian Institution / Gift of the Abraham and Virginia Weiss Charitable Trust, Amy and Marc Meadows, in Honor of Wendy Wick Reaves

Born in California, Christy Turlington was “discovered” as a model while in high school and moved to New York in 1987, where she quickly established herself as one of the elite group of “super-models.” She and her two 1980s contemporaries, Linda Evangelista and Naomi Campbell, were known as the “Trinity” because of their star power. Turlington’s career is significant in terms of the celebrity culture of the 1980s and its convergence with business and merchandising practices. She has been the face of major brands, including Calvin Klein and Maybelline, and has appeared on over 500 magazine covers. 

While her face is familiar to people all over the world, many people do not know that she is of Hispanic descent. (Her mother is from El Salvador.) Turlington was featured in Timothy Greenfield-Sanders’s documentary “The Latino List” in 2012, and she is more than just a pretty face. In 2010, she founded the advocacy group “Every Mother Counts” to spread awareness about pregnancy, child rearing, and public health, especially in economically disadvantaged countries. . In addition, Time magazine deemed Turlington one of the 100 most influential people in 2014, citing her extensive philanthropic work.

Turlington is one of the artist Alex Katz’s favorite subjects. This boldly rendered portrait epitomizes the monumental scale, bright colors, and radically simplified composition that have characterized Katz’s art since the 1960s, when he was among the very few representational artists working on such a large scale. Fascinated by the interplay of ephemerality and timelessness in fashion and art, Katz portrays the former supermodel in a classic black shift, deliberately calling to mind his iconic painting of 1960, The Black Dress. The silkscreen is part of a recent renaissance in printmaking for Katz, who has used a variety of print media over the past fifty years to hone the cool, detached elegance of his signature style. 

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