Alex Katz - 20th Century & Contemporary Art Day Sale - Morning Session New York Thursday, November 18, 2021 | Phillips
  • "My paintings are aesthetically different from conventional landscapes: they are environmental... You look at one, and you float inside of it." —Alex KatzPainted in 1988, Ada in Front of Black Brook portrays the artist’s wife, a frequent muse in his most celebrated works. She is positioned slightly off-center in the foreground, facing a scenic view of the titular Black Brook Pond in Maine. Here, Ada is recognizable for her dark, straight hair, despite her back being to the viewer. Earth tones collide with her bright floral shirt, and highlights in the water catch reflections of the surrounding natural light. Katz’s subject matter is ambiguous, as the work oscillates between portrait and landscape. Ada’s imposing gaze perfectly illustrates a moment in time when everything freezes for a split second.
    "We see her from behind, looking at the surface of the dark water, in which trees are darkly mirrored, and in which white stones hover as if they were not made of stone but rendered weightless by the light." —Patrick Frey, on Ada in Front of Black Brook, 1989This work highlights Katz’s ability to select, edit, and crop a scene, a technique akin to cinematography. Despite beginning his career as an artist when Abstract Expressionism was the primary focus of the art world, Katz chose to focus on depicting mostly figures and landscapes in his paintings. His emphasis on portraying people in their everyday habitats, often those he knows personally, is more akin to early 20th Century American painting, such as in works by John Singer Sargent and Edward Hopper. In Katz’s figurative works, however, he uses vibrant blocks of color in large strokes, redefining traditional portraiture through pop aesthetics.

    His Katzian style has become instantly recognizable. Over the past few decades, viewers have come to instantly identify a painting as by Katz, and further, the characters within the paintings as well. Even when Ada’s back is to us, we recognize her as the artist’s wife, and non-descript landscapes are quickly identified as the family’s homes in Maine or New York City. This quality imbues Katz’s works with a feeling of nostalgia, even for a scene we may never have stepped foot in.

    • Provenance

      Marlborough Gallery, New York
      Galería Fandos, Valencia
      Private Collection, Valencia (acquired from the above)
      Christie's, New York, November 15, 2012, lot 336
      Acquired at the above sale by the present owner

    • Exhibited

      Valencia, Institut Valencià d'Art Modern, Alex Katz, October 29, 1996–January 12, 1997, p. 74 (illustrated)
      New York, The Jewish Museum, Alex Katz Paints Ada, October 27, 2006–March 18, 2007, pl. 41, pp. 68–69, 107 (illustrated, pp. 68-69)

    • Literature

      Patrick Frey, "Ada, Katz's Picture Women (on: Ada in Front of Black Brook)," Parkett, no. 21, 1989, pp. 69–71 (illustrated, pp. 70–71)
      Irving Sandler, Alex Katz: A Retrospective, New York, 1998, pp. 125, 196 (illustrated, p. 125)


Ada in Front of Black Brook

oil on linen
48 1/8 x 96 in. (122.2 x 243.8 cm)
Painted in 1988.

Full Cataloguing

$180,000 - 250,000 

Sold for $378,000

Contact Specialist

John McCord
Head of Day Sale, Morning Session, New York
+1 212 940 1261

20th Century & Contemporary Art Day Sale - Morning Session

New York Auction 18 November 2021