Details & Cataloguing

Contemporary Art Day Auction


Alex Katz
B. 1927
signed and dated 04 
oil on canvas
304.8 by 152.4 cm. 120 by 60 in.
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Galerie Thaddeus Ropac, Paris
Private Collection, United States
Sotheby's, New York, 2 March 2016, Lot 202
Acquired from the above by the present owner

Catalogue Note

Voyeuristic yet intrinsically intimate, Eyes Closed is a poignant example of Alex’s Katz prolific and celebrated oeuvre. A radical in the field of representation, Katz defied the gestural brushstroke commonly associated with the avant-garde of the 1950s and instead boldly pioneered an aesthetic of figuration and pseudo-realism. Eyes Closed epitomises this iconic style. Upon the canvas form and subject are equally perspicuous; a notion contesting the avant-garde axiom that one or the other must predominate. Furthermore the use of flatness, light and tonality showcase Katz’s stunning ability to reveal the spirit of his subject in a surprising and subtle way.

Eyes Closed espouses a monochromatic palette reminiscent of Renaissance sculpture, while the effervescent depiction of light further recalls the surface of stone and clay. Rendering his sitter in hues of grey and ivory, Katz adapts the size and scale associated with the Abstract Expressionism to create a monument of sorts. Moreover, Katz depicts his sitter in a profoundly private moment, perhaps asleep or deep in thought. Here, the complex interplay between the public and the private individual is at the forefront of this thought provoking portrait.  

Katz draws upon mass media images of consumerism and from these sources emerge the flat areas of largely unmodulated colour, and the severe cropping of the image which distinguishes his idiosyncratic style. Despite comparisons to the sleek and commercial aesthetic of Pop art, Katz’s attachment to this group remains only tangential. The artist comments, “Pop art deals with signs, while my work deals with symbols. Pop art is cynical and ironic. My work is not. Those are big differences. Pop art is modern. My work is traditional” (Alex Katz in conversation with David Salle, in: Enzo Cucchi, Alex Katz: Unfamiliar Images, Milan 2002, p. 16).

For more than half a century Katz’s unique visual vernacular, commitment to figurative painting and cool aesthetic have set him apart from his contemporaries. Notably, scholars such as Eric de Chassey have credited Katz with reframing the discourse of modernism. De Chassey writes, “Katz was one of the first to show in a new way that the pictorial and the iconographic are conciliatory, as opposed to the dominant discourse of Modernism, which situates non-figuration as an historical necessity…” (Alex Katz, Vittoria Coen and Lisa Liebman, Eds., Alex Katz, Turin 1999, p. 212). It is for these reasons that Eyes Closed is a paradigm of Katz’s most celebrated artistic endeavours to date.

Contemporary Art Day Auction