Alex Katz - 20th Century & Contemporary Art Day Sale, Morning Session New York Tuesday, May 16, 2023 | Phillips

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  • In Alex Katz’s White Band (Katherine), 2013, the figure, with her curls catching glimpses of light, stands against an isolated, blue background. Her hair is tied back with a white headband, the subject of several Katz portraits during the 2010s, and her gaze is ahead, only showing us a profile view with little to no emotion. Careful observation is given to her features—thin eyebrows, a defined jawline and an elongated nose suggest that this is a more realistic depiction, rather than an idealized one. In this way, the present work is emblematic of Katz’s distinct painterly practice and reflects the artist’s respect and admiration for the minute details of quotidian life. Evoking a Pop style of realism, the artist’s works combine influences from a variety of movements and styles, resulting in a refreshing take on traditional landscapes, still lifes, and portraits, and solidifying him as one of the premier artists of the 20th and 21st centuries. Included in Galerie Thaddaeus Ropac’s monographic exhibition in 2014, which brought together roughly 100 works made between the 1960s and 2010s, White Band (Katherine) has been in the same esteemed private collection for almost a decade.

    “The vocabulary or grammar is all out of abstract painting – that's what makes my painting different from all the other figurative painters”
    —Alex Katz
    Becoming involved in the art scene at a young age, Katz’s oeuvre sits at the intersection of a variety of art historical influences. After seeing Jackson Pollock’s expressive drip paintings of the 1950s take the New York art world by storm, Katz decided to instead forge his own unique form of portrait painting—one that at once incorporates and breaks from the basic tenets of Abstract Expressionism. The modulated texture of the brushstrokes in the present work is reflective of this idea. The artist’s hand is present through the varied directions through which the paint was applied in both the sky-blue backdrop, as well as in the figures’ hair and skin. Thin, active strokes of white recall the dynamism of Pollock’s compositions, set against a more minimal rendering. While presenting distinctly Pop iconography of traditional Americana, Katz’s works thus sit at the crossroads between two of the biggest aesthetic movements of the time. Similarly, Katz’s portraits reflect non-Western traditions. The artist has cited Japanese artist Kitagawa Utamaro’s portraits as a major influence on his oeuvre. Drawn to the 18th century artist’s use of a pared down line in emotive yet minimalist compositions, one can see a clear connection between the two, at first seemingly disparate, art making styles.


    [Left] Kitagawa Utamaro, The Courtesan Konosumi, from the series Beauties of the Southern Quarter (Nangoku bijin awase), circa 1793-1794, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York. Image: © The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, Rogers Fund, 1922
    [Right] Edvard Munch, Portrait of Ragnhild Backstrom, 1894. Image: Bridgeman Images

    Never aligning himself strictly with one art school or tradition, Katz’s portrait practice truly takes on a life of its own. His concerns are purely technical, always opting to create his works from direct observation, a process which he’s adopted since his time at Maine’s Skowhegan School of Painting and Sculpture starting in 1949. Coupling his observations with the use of non-descript backgrounds, a technique employed by Old Masters like Edvard Munch and Gustave Courbet, the ambiguous setting gives the viewer the power to determine the relationship between painter and sitter. Setting Katherine against a monochromatic blue background which matches the crystal blue of her eyes, Katz omits all context from the scene, giving her an emotionless stare ahead into the distance without any hints as to where she might be going or what she might be doing. This elimination of all elements Katz deems unnecessary is central to his practice, allowing the viewer to interpret the work in a multitude of ways and venues, creating a timeless universality.

    • Provenance

      Galerie Thaddaeus Ropac, Salzburg
      Salzburg, 3rd Austrian Friends' Gala to benefit the Israel Museum, Jerusalem, July 28, 2014
      Acquired at the above sale by the present owner

    • Exhibited

      Paris, Galerie Thaddeaus Ropac, Alex Katz: 45 Years of Portraits. 1969-2014, March 2–July 12, 2014, p. 122 (illustrated)

    • Literature

      Galerie Thaddeaus Ropac, "Honorary Committee and guest list," Galerie Thaddeaus Ropac, Paris, July 28, 2014 (illustrated on the front cover)


White Band (Katherine)

signed and dated "Alex Katz 13" on the overlap
oil on linen
48 x 66 in. (121.9 x 167.6 cm)
Painted in 2013.

Full Cataloguing

$400,000 - 600,000 

Sold for $444,500

Contact Specialist

Annie Dolan

Specialist, Head of Sale, Morning Session
+1 212 940 1288

20th Century & Contemporary Art Day Sale, Morning Session

New York Auction 16 May 2023