Alex Katz Passing 1962-63

  • Not on view

Ambitious, elegant, impersonal, large in scale, and simultaneously both timeless and reflective of its time—these, according to Katz, are the qualities of “high style” in painting. Believing, he has said, that “you have no power unless you have traditional elements in your pictures,” Katz integrates familiar traditions with avant-garde practice. Passing belongs to a venerable genre—it is a self-portrait—but it has the scale of Abstract Expressionism. The work is among Katz’s first big paintings, which he deliberately imbued with what he has termed the “aggressive and intimidating” qualities of billboards.

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. He appears in the guise of a well-dressed businessman, and he has taken care to depict each element of his elegant uniform: 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. Far from the cliché of the bohemian artist, Katz looks coolly imperturbable in his dapper suit and hat. Though the work is plainly a self-portrait, the title may suggest that here Katz is also passing as a kind of everyman.

Publication excerpt from MoMA Highlights: 375 Works from The Museum of Modern Art, New York (New York: The Museum of Modern Art, 2019)
Medium
Oil on canvas
Dimensions
71 3/4 x 6' 7 5/8" (182.2 x 202.2 cm)
Credit
Gift of the Louis and Bessie Adler Foundation, Inc., Seymour M. Klein, President
Object number
233.1978
Copyright
© 2020 Alex Katz
Department
Painting and Sculpture

Installation views

How we identified these works

In 2018–19, MoMA collaborated with Google Arts & Culture Lab on a project using machine learning to identify artworks in installation photos. That project has concluded, and works are now being identified by MoMA staff.

If you notice an error, please contact us at [email protected].

Licensing

If you would like to reproduce an image of a work of art in MoMA’s collection, or an image of a MoMA publication or archival material (including installation views, checklists, and press releases), please contact Art Resource (publication in North America) or Scala Archives (publication in all other geographic locations).

All requests to license audio or video footage produced by MoMA should be addressed to Scala Archives at [email protected]. Motion picture film stills or motion picture footage from films in MoMA’s Film Collection cannot be licensed by MoMA/Scala. For licensing motion picture film footage it is advised to apply directly to the copyright holders. For access to motion picture film stills please contact the Film Study Center. More information is also available about the film collection and the Circulating Film and Video Library.

If you would like to reproduce text from a MoMA publication or moma.org, please email [email protected]. If you would like to publish text from MoMA’s archival materials, please fill out this permission form and send to [email protected].

Feedback

This record is a work in progress. If you have additional information or spotted an error, please send feedback to [email protected].