“What Katz found so compelling about this scene was its complete disregard for aesthetic precedent, irreverence for an academy of poetry, and gravitation toward vernacular expression, where words were less pondered and possessed an immediacy that spoke of nowness.”
—Debra Bricker Balken, independent scholar and curator
GRAY is pleased to announce Alex Katz: Collaborations with Poets, a hardcover monograph published in conjunction with the eponymous exhibition at the Poetry Foundation in Chicago. The first comprehensive survey of Alex Katz’s collaborations with poets—including some of the most acclaimed American writers of the 20th century—this 208-page book features portraits, book and journal covers, and unique artworks from the past 60 years. Alex Katz: Collaborations with Poets, the exhibition and book, are the first to focus on Katz’s deep interest in poetry and his connection to the poets of the New York School, a community of writers in downtown Manhattan who upended poetry using wit and a contemporary, conversational style in the late 1950s and ’60s.
In her in-depth essay for the book, art historian Debra Bricker Balken traces how this connection to the New York School of Poets was formative to Katz’s groundbreaking artistic practice. Setting up his Manhattan studio in the mid-century, Katz pushed against the gestural, spontaneous qualities of Abstract Expressionism, the dominant movement of the time, while still being drawn to its energy. “It wasn’t the style I wanted to follow,” Katz has said, and yet, he “wanted to paint up to their standards.” Balken writes that it was his interactions with the New York School—especially Frank O’Hara, whom he considered a hero—that would drive his innovative merging of Ab Ex and the American vernaculars of advertising and media, resulting in cool, depersonalized, non-psychological portraits.
Known for flat, planar surfaces that portray little of his subject’s interior lives, Katz is widely renowned not only for his aesthetic innovation but for his documentation of New York’s bohemian scenes: the coteries of painters, dancers, and writers with whom he socialized. And yet, Katz’s work with poets—titanic figures such as John Ashbery, James Schuyler, Kenneth Koch, Ted Berrigan, and Alice Notley—has received little attention until now. The book includes full-color reproductions of paintings, prints, drawings, aquatints, cutouts, and photogravures that Katz created. As Balken notes, Katz’s work with poets “differ, for the most part, from other artists/poet collaborations.” Instead of being integrated into a single image, the poetry and Katz’s visual contribution exist independently from each other: “...as in all of his matchups with poets,” Balken writes, “few evident parallels exist outside of the joint economy of means.”
The exhibition Alex Katz: Collaborations with Poets, organized by the artist and his son, poet Vincent Katz, with whom he has also collaborated, will be on view at the Poetry Foundation in Chicago through May 20, 2023. The book, containing the complete works on view in the exhibition and much more, provides thorough documentation of Alex Katz’s deep passion for poetry, an art form whose tactics he considers to be “more stimulating than painting.”
ABOUT GRAY | GRAY is a globally recognized team of art professionals devoted to fostering the development of historically important artists’ careers and to building outstanding art collections. Founded in 1963, GRAY has built its reputation as a resource for Modern, Post-War, and Contemporary art with prominent private and institutional clients worldwide. Known for producing critically acclaimed exhibitions and programming from its galleries in Chicago and New York, GRAY represents a roster of internationally recognized artists such as McArthur Binion, Jim Dine, Torkwase Dyson, Theaster Gates, David Hockney, Rashid Johnson, Alex Katz, Ellen Lanyon, Jaume Plensa, Leon Polk Smith, and Evelyn Statsinger.
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