Man with a Hat, #7, 1958
26 1/2 x 14 1/2 x 13 1/2 in. (67.3 x 36.8 x 34.3 cm)
Gift of the Ralph E. Ogden Foundation
© Estate of Kosta Alex
Photo by Jerry L. Thompson
In the early part of his career Kosta Alex made symbolic sculptures reminiscent of Surrealist stage sets. Beginning in the 1950s he turned to abstract portraiture, a focus that culminated in his “Man with a Hat” series. Alex claims to have conceived the idea in 1939, but the first known bust in the series dates from 1951 and depicts a man wearing a Napoleonic-style hat. By 1969 Alex had made ninety-four variations on the theme; he stopped making these works after that year. The busts are characterized by abstracted, even schematic facial features and roughly modeled surfaces. Many are humorous or whimsical in attitude, while others exhibit a distinctly melancholic mood. According to the artist, this elemental image of a man wearing a hat was originally inspired by his memory of a man with a Yiddish accent singing the American national anthem in 1939—on the eve of World War II. This larger than life-size bronze bust of a man wearing a Derby hat low on his forehead is an example of the series that has defined Alex’s career.