Ambitious, elegant, impersonal, large in scale, and simultaneously timeless and reflective of its time—these, according to Katz, are the qualities of "high style" in painting, and they are also the qualities of many of his own works. Believing that "you have no power unless you have traditional elements in your pictures," Katz achieves high style by integrating familiar traditions with avant–garde practice. Passing belongs to a venerable genre—it is a self-portrait—but has the scale of Abstract Expressionism. Another inspiration is the advertising billboard; like the Pop artists, Katz pays attention to the cultural scene. Meanwhile, his reductive approach and his conception of pictorial space match those in the formalist painting of the 1960s.
The ground in Passing is a flat monochrome, and Katz's face and shoulders are so simplified that it is mainly their clarity as parts of a figure that insinuates their volume. Neither smiling nor frowning, Katz meets our gaze frankly, but his character is muted by the artifice of the painting's design: the perfect ellipse of the hat brim; the asymmetry in the height of the shoulders; the limited palette, all near-flat blacks, whites, and grays except for the face. Far from the bohemian artist, Katz looks coolly imperturbable in his businessman's suit and hat—stylish not only in his painting but in his person.
Publication excerpt from The Museum of Modern Art, MoMA Highlights, New York: The Museum of Modern Art, revised 2004, originally published 1999, p. 266.