Peter’s Auction Pick of the Day: Alex Katz

February 16, 2016

There are some artworks that I pause to look at time and time again during the weeks they are kept in our offices as we prepare to sell them at auction. One of these lately has been Here’s to You, a 1962 portrait by Alex Katz, Lot 142 in our February 21st Auction of modern art and design.

Lot 142, Alex Katz, Here's to You (1962)
Lot 142, Alex Katz, Here’s to You (1962)
February 21, 2016 Modern Art & Design Auction

Few contemporary artists have a style that is as instantly recognizable as Katz’s. The New Yorker’s paintings are a paradox: simultaneously warm and cool, formal and representational. He paints portraits and landscapes using economical lines and large, flat planes of bright yet oddly muted colors. His subjects are the places and people he has known intimately: streetscapes of the SoHo neighborhood of Manhattan where Katz has lived and worked for decades; the backwoods of Maine where he keeps a second home; friends, loved ones, and, most especially and in more than 200 iterations, his wife and muse, Ada. Yet Katz renders these subjects with dispassion and detachment. His work is both seductive and cold-blooded.

Here’s to You marks an important point in the course of Katz’s artistic development. In this painting, his signature technique appears just at the point of crystalizing. Its subject is on the verge of being dominated by the background, rendered in a rich, cream-of-tomato-soup tone. The sitter is Joe LeSueur, a friend of Katz and a fixture in the Manhattan arts scene of the early 1960s as the longtime on-again, off-again lover of the poet and critic Frank O’Hara. To me, there’s something haunting about Here’s to You. Katz has portrayed LeSueur with a strange distance, as if he were an acquaintance spotted unexpectedly at the other end of a hotel bar.

Joe LeSueur (the subject of Lot 142) and Jack Larson

Joe LeSueur (the subject of Lot 142, Here’s to You) and Jack Larson

There’s another, practical point of interest in Here’s to You. In his mature period, Katz has painted at a monumental scale—some of his works are as much as thirty feet wide. Not many of us who admire Katz have the kind of grand display wall needed to accommodate such a painting. But here—measuring 24.5 x 32.5 inches in the frame—is a Katz that can go anywhere.

Lot Information:

Lot 142
Alex Katz
Here’s to You
Oil on Masonite panel
Signed and dated upper right; retains Thibaut Gallery label verso; retains “In Memory of My Feelings: Frank O’Hara and American Art” and “Alex Katz: Small Paintings” exhibition labels verso; bears the inscription “#12″ in red ink verso
Masonite: 23.875″ x 32″; Frame: 24.5″ x 32.5”
The subject of this painting is Joe LeSueur, friend and on-and-off lover to Frank O’Hara. Both LeSueur and O’Hara were close friends of Jack Larson and James Bridges
Together with two books
Provenance: Jack Larson and James Bridges, Los Angeles, California
Exhibited: “Alex Katz,” Thibaut Gallery, New York, February 12-March 9, 1963; “In Memory of My Feelings: Frank O’Hara and American Art,” traveling exhibition, the Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles, July 11-November 14, 1999; the Wexner Center for the Arts, Columbus, January 28-April 16, 2000; the Parrish Art Museum, Southampton, June 11-July 30, 2000; “Alex Katz: Small Paintings,” traveling exhibition, Addison Gallery of American Art, Phillips Academy, Andover, April 7-July 31, 2001; Whitney Museum of American Art, New York, September 21, 2001-January 4, 2002; Kemper Museum of Contemporary Art, Kansas City, March 22-June 2, 2002
Illustrated: In Memory of My Feelings: Frank O’Hara and American Art. R. Ferguson. 1999. 95.; Alex Katz: Small Paintings. A. Weinberg, et al. 2001. 82.
Estimate: $80,000 – $120,000
February 21, 2016 Modern Art & Design Auction

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