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)
Oil on canvas
71 3/4 x 6' 7 5/8" (182.2 x 202.2 cm)
Gift of the Louis and Bessie Adler Foundation, Inc., Seymour M. Klein, President
Object number
© 2020 Alex Katz
Painting and Sculpture

Installation views

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