Alex Katz: Theater and Dance - Exhibitions

Alex Katz: Theater and Dance

August 16, 2022–February 19, 2023

The Paul J. Schupf Wing for the Works of Alex Katz

Since the late 1950s, Alex Katz has painted dancers and designed sets and costumes for theater and dance productions, and yet this will be the first comprehensive museum presentation of Katz’s highly collaborative and playful work with choreographers, dancers, and members of avant-garde theater ensembles. Organized by the Colby Museum with the guidance of curator Robert Storr, the artist himself, and a curatorial team, Alex Katz: Theater and Dance will offer an unparalleled opportunity to experience Katz’s designs and his process. It will also show how painting and design for the stage have intertwined in Katz’s work.

Katz’s abiding interest in dance and experimental theater led to his work in set and costume design. As Katz found his artistic footing in the 1950s, he gained entrée into the circle of painters, poets, critics, dancers, and musicians loosely identified as the New York School. In 1959, he devised his breakthrough “cutouts,” two-dimensional sculptures that informed his vision for the stage.

“I’d never seen anything like it,” Katz recalls of his first encounter with the work of dancer and choreographer Paul Taylor, whom he first painted in 1959, “Paul was the greatest dancer on the planet.”

Song, Laura Dean Dance Co., 1977. Oil on canvas. 96 × 144 in. (243.8 × 365.8 cm). Milwaukee Art Museum, Promised gift of Alex Katz in honor of Mrs. Harry Lynde Bradley, L126.1993.
© Alex Katz / Licensed by VAGA, New York, NY.

Their decades-long collaboration began in 1960, and the two ultimately partnered on sixteen productions. This enduring creative relationship yielded some of the most significant post-modern dance of the twentieth century. Katz’s involvement with Paul Taylor led to collaborations with other companies including Yoshiko Chuma, Laura Dean, William Dunas, and Parsons Dance. In Katz’s own words: “the experience [of collaborating with Paul Taylor] expanded the idea of what I could do. You’re not just a painter, you’re a person who has an idea about the art. Once you get that through your head, you have an expanded way of dealing even with your painting.”

Throughout his many theater and dance collaborations, Katz has challenged the conventional while bringing his recognizable style to performance. Alex Katz: Theater and Dance will bring together unpublished, never before exhibited sketches from the artist’s collection, major sets and paintings, and rare archival materials from Paul Taylor Dance Company. Together, these will show Katz introducing tenets of postwar painting into dance and theater aesthetics and foreground the deep inspiration he has drawn from a prolonged study of performance.

The exhibition will be accompanied by a robust series of public and academic programs and by a major catalogue, co-published by Rizzoli Electra, with contributions by Charlie Reinhart, David Salle, Jennifer Tipton, and Diana Tuite, as well as Katz, himself. 

This exhibition and catalogue are generously supported by Betsy and Edward Cohen/Areté Foundation, Brendan Dugan, and Thaddaeus Ropac. Additional support is provided by the 25th Anniversary Fund, and the Edward H. Turner Art Exhibition Fund, and the Mirken Family Publications Fund. 

About the Artist

Born in Brooklyn, New York, in 1927 to Russian émigré parents, Alex Katz entered the Cooper Union Art School in Manhattan in 1946, where he studied painting under Morris Kantor and was trained in Modern art theories and techniques. Upon graduating in 1949, Katz was awarded a scholarship for summer study at the Skowhegan School for Painting and Sculpture in Maine, a grant that he would renew the following summer. Skowhegan encouraged him to paint from life, which would prove pivotal in his development as a painter and remains a staple of his practices today. 

Katz’s first one-person show was held at the Roko Gallery in 1954, and he developed a circle of acquaintances among the second-generation New York School painters and their allies in the other arts. In the late 1950s, he made the decision to attempt greater realism in his paintings. He became increasingly interested in portraiture and painted his friends and in particular his wife and muse, Ada. He began designing sets and costumes for choreographer Paul Taylor in the early 1960s, and he has painted many images of dancers throughout the years. 

Katz’s work has been the subject of more than 250 solo exhibitions and nearly 500 group exhibitions internationally since 1951 and received numerous accolades throughout his career. His works can be found in over 100 public collections worldwide.

A summer resident of Lincolnville, Maine, since 1954, Katz has been a friend to the Colby College Museum of Art for many decades and has served on the museum’s Board of Governors. He received an honorary doctorate from Colby in 1984.

Alex Katz. Maine, 2021. © Isaac Katz

In 1996, the Colby Museum opened the Paul Schupf Wing for the Works of Alex Katz. The artist donated more than 400 pieces to the museum’s collection, including major oil paintings, cutouts, collages, prints, and drawings. The  space was made possible through the generosity of Colby Trustee Paul Schupf, who contributed toward the cost of the building as well as several large paintings. The Colby Museum’s collection now includes nearly 900 works by Katz, including his entire print oeuvre.

Related Media

Opening Conversation for Alex Katz: Theater and Dance


Laurence Hobgood, Alex Katz, Charles L. Reinhart, David Salle, Robert Storr, Jennifer Tipton, and Diana Tuite

Hardcover, 8 x 10 in., 256 pp. | $55

Co-published with Rizzoli Electa

This publication, which brings together paintings, sketches, costumes, photographs, film stills, and ephemera, is the first to examine the many decades of Katz’s work for the stage, including the ways that he introduced tenets of postwar painting into theater and dance aesthetics. Newly-commissioned essays, unpublished materials, and major paintings provide an overview of Katz’s working relationships with individual choreographers and shed new light on avant-garde collaborations in New York between the 1960s and 80s.

Images (Banner): Last Look, 1986. Oil on board. 24 x 60 ¼ in. Collection of the artist. © Alex Katz / Licensed by VAGA, New York, NY; (Below): The Red Robins, 1977. Acrylic on panel. Four panels: 61 x 96 in. (154.9 x 243.8 cm), each. Private collection. © Alex Katz / Licensed by VAGA, New York, NY