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Colby College Museum of Art

Alex Katz, Song, Laura Dean Dance Co., 1977. Oil on canvas. 96 × 144 in. (243.8 × 365.8 cm)

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.”

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 Alex Katz: Theater and Dance will bring together unpublished, never before exhibited sketches from the artist’s collection, major sets and paintings, and rare archival materials from Paul Taylor Dance Company.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.