You have the feeling you've seen her before on a manicured suburban lawn: a sleek, well-groomed woman with ample leisure for sunbathing. A flicker of dissatisfaction shadows her face as she reclines in a bright orange beach chair. The stem of an orange flower, growing alongside her, mirrors the regal tilt of her neck.
"Ada With Superb Lily," a portrait from 1967 of artist Alex Katz's wife, is one in an endlessly fascinating gallery of sleek, attractive friends and family members whom Katz has painted in his flat, vivid style. Ada del Moro, whom he married in 1958, is his favorite subject: "woman, wife, mother, muse, model, sociable hostess, celebrity, myth, icon and New York goddess," as Irving Sandler writes in "Alex Katz: A Retrospective" (Harry N. Abrams, 199 pages, $65).
Sandler's engrossing discussion of Katz's unique use of intense light effects, pure color and stylized compositions illuminates 180 reproductions of Katz's work from the late '50s through the '90s. Although they can't convey the paintings' outsized scale (influenced by billboards and movie close-ups), these photographs are a luscious treat.
Famous for his cool, deadpan paintings of people who seem curiously isolated even when they're chatting at a party, Katz also has worked his transforming magic on landscapes and urban views. Filled with sensual color, they push you right into the leafy brightness of "Yellow Morning," the thick purple mist of "Wet Evening" or the icy bleakness of "January 7 P.M."
During World War II, when household repairs suddenly became women's work, House Beautiful magazine published a how-to manual--illustrated on recipe cards. A few years later, when veterans were buying houses on the G.I. Bill, ads for the new latex-based paints and vinyl floor tiles glorified the do-it-yourselfer as a he-man whose wife's job mostly involved smiling.
In her sprightly little book, "Do It Yourself: Home Improvement in 20th-Century America" (Princeton Architectural Press/National Building Museum, 109 pages, $17.95), exhibition curator Carolyn M. Goldstein keeps tabs on the human side of home-renovation history, as well as the evolution of products and shifting notions of taste.
Beginning with the wistful glorification of manual skill by early 20th century urbanites and the growing ranks of hobbyists idled by the Great Depression, the book ends with a look at the "This Old House" generation, nostalgically restoring vintage architecture. Peppered throughout the text are reproductions of ads, magazine covers, and cartoons skewering home handymen.
Dorothy Rice lugged her easel to Wilshire Boulevard to paint every window of the Regent Beverly Wilshire Hotel aglow from strings of Christmas lights. She patiently brushed in every gleaming baluster of the grand staircase at Barney's New York, and each of the dreamy-looking women milling around at Sotheby's before an auction of Ella Fitzgerald and Dorothy Lamour memorabilia.
And Wilshire isn't the half of it. The 233 watercolors in "Beverly Hills With Love" (Glen House Communications, 176 pages, $60) roam all over the former model and actress's adopted city. Rice memorializes famous sights (Pickfair's airily elaborate gate) and everyday ones (an American flag waving from a "cozy estate"), shops and cafes, and people who seem to be on a perpetual vacation or a lifelong schmooze-fest.
The charm of Rice's captioned paintings--a form of urban folk art--derives from her unpretentiously chummy view of the rich and famous. She knows everybody's name and everybody's business, from the hot-shot personal trainer to the flossy cosmetician. Hey, there's screenwriter Joe Eszterhas trucking through a crosswalk on Rodeo Drive. And here we are at the Grill, where actress Jacqueline Bisset and "well-known talent agent and raconteur extraordinaire" Robert Littman greet each other in weirdly similar blue-and-white striped suits. Yoo-hoo!
Majestic live oaks, grassy mounds and serene bodies of water create the dreamy peacefulness of Middleton Place, a landscape near Charleston, S.C., conceived in 1741 by plantation owner Henry Middleton.
The primeval look of Bloedel Reserve on Bainbridge Island in Washington dates back only to the 1980s. Richard Haag and Thomas Church designed a striking blend of the wild and the civilized, including a forest carpeted in moss, a pool grandly framed by yews and a path winding through a meadow.
Photographer Alan Ward, a landscape architect in his own right, recaptures the slowly unfolding experience of walking through significant American gardens, parks and other outdoor spaces at different times of day in "American Designed Landscapes: A Photographic Interpretation" (Spacemaker Press, 127 pages, $49.95). He prints these visions in velvet blacks and soft whites, believing--as he writes--that the absence of color yields a more powerful and poetic awareness of form.
The 18 sites in these large, exquisitely nuanced photographs include the Blue Ridge Parkway in Virginia; the geometric outdoor "rooms" of the private Miller Garden in Columbus, Ind.; and the stark purity of "California Scenario," Isamu Noguchi's symbolic mini-landscape in Costa Mesa.
Cathy Curtis reviews art and photography books every four weeks.