New York's Whitney Museum and The High Line announce major public art collaboration, with Alex Katz as inaugural artist

By Laura van Straaten

Alex Katz Katherine and Elizabeth, 2012; courtesy Gavin Brown's enterprise Art © Alex Katz/Licensed by VAGA, New York, NY

The Whitney Museum and The High Line have announced a long-term public art collaboration, with the inaugural installation, opening mid-July, by New York painter Alex Katz.

A scaled-up digital print of Katz’s 2012 painting, Katherine and Elizabeth, which has never been shown publicly, will be installed on the North-facing wall of 95 Horatio Street, a residential building near 14th Street, owned by T.F. Cornerstone, at the southern end of The High Line, New York's 1.45 miles of elevated park.

In a telephone interview last winter, just as the collaboration was taking shape, Whitney director Adam Weinberg said that the project is part of “reconnecting with the neighbourhood where we had deep a historical connection,” noting that the Whitney’s brand new Renzo Piano building is just blocks from the museum’s first home, from 1931 to 1954, on West 8th Street in Greenwich Village.

Weinberg, Whitney curator Chrissie Iles and curator Cecilia Alemani of High Line Art, which is responsible for all of the High Line's visual art initiatives, discussed other artists for the first installation. But they settled quickly on Katz due the Whitney's long relationship with him, according to Margaret Calvert-Cason, an exhibition coordinator for the Whitney who also worked on the collaboration.

Katz’s history with the Whitney dates back 40 years. The museum hosted a solo show of the artist’s prints in 1974 and then the first major retrospective of his work in 1986. Realising that it was critical to have an image that would read well from a long distance the curators reviewed various pieces with Katz in his studio before deciding that his portrait of two women would work best for the site.

Katz’s practice has long included public art projects. In 1977 the artist created a nearly 250-foot frieze of 23 portraits, each 20 feet high, that wrapped New York's RKO General building at 42nd Street and 7th Avenue. In 1984, the transit authority in Chicago commissioned Katz to create Harlem Station, a two-sided mural measuring 8 by 50 feet. In 2005, working in conjunction with Creative Time, Katz created Give Me Tomorrow, a billboard measuring 28 by 53 feet that stood above above the old Bowery Bar (now B Bar and Grill) on the Bowery at East 4th Street. And in 2010, reproductions of Katz’s work replaced advertisements atop more than 150 New York City taxicabs as part of Art Production Fund’s Art Adds programme.

The collaboration will feature the work of a new artist every eight to 12 months, with the next artist to be featured on the site still to be decided.

18 June 2014