Who’s Showing at Art Basel: Alex Katz

by Sydney Sadick

Alex Katz, the 89-year-old painter, has been the subject of more than 200 solo exhibitions worldwide, and his work shines in institutions such as MoMA, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, and the Tate Gallery. This week, he unveils his foray into wearable art with a capsule collection for H&M.

What triggered this collaboration with H&M?
They pretty much proposed it to me and adapted my art to the clothes. I had the right of refusal, but I thought they did a fantastic job. They’re such a fantastic team—a smart group of people—and the stuff is creative and stylish. I’m really surprised by how good things look and how stylish they are.

Did you help them transfer your artistic style into the collection?
They really figured it all out by looking at a big book of my work. They first came to me with a lot of different people, and I thought that was terrific. They wanted releases from the people, even though I own the copyright, because they were doing this to make money and didn’t want to get sued, so they picked 10 pictures and made a campaign out of 10 images. It was terrific.

Were you an H&M customer before the partnership?
I actually was. I love their bright-colored polo shirts—I wear them all the time—and I think I’ve bought white T-shirts there, too.

Jeff Koons is the only other artist to collaborate with H&M.
Yeah, I know Koons. We see each other in the art world occasionally. I think we both engage big publics—that’s one of the common characteristics. My work seems to be popular with people who aren’t necessarily highly educated in the arts. The work is made so that anyone can understand it on their level, but my friends have to look at it twice—they can’t figure it all out at once, but I think a lot of people get it right away.

Have you been approached by other fashion brands to collaborate in the past?
Not like this. I did a big project with Barneys [New York] last year. I did their windows and designed objects for them, but not with clothing.

Have you gotten your hands on the collection yet?
Yeah, they sent me pieces and they’re absolutely terrific. The jackets and hoodies for men are fabulous. There are also these gowns and great bathing suits and pocketbooks for women. From where I’m sitting, the whole thing is very successful.

Why do you like working with fashion brands?
I think fashion reflects the culture of our time—fashion is ephemeral, and it’s sort of the same with paintings.

What are your plans at Art Basel this year?
I’m going to the opening party, which will be fun. I’m also having a black and white show at Washington University in D.C. right after the show in Miami. I’m also working on a lot of paintings.

Is there a piece you’re most looking forward to people seeing at Basel?
I have one of [my son] Vincent that my wife likes a lot, so I can’t sell it. There are so many paintings I like; basically I’m very happy with them

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