Alex Katz’s Love Affair With Maine


The American figurative painter Alex Katz has maintained a deep connection to Maine since he first ventured out of New York City in 1949 when he received a scholarship to attend the Skowhegan School of Painting and Sculpture. Katz eventually became a lifelong summer resident of Lincolnville, a seaside town where fellow artist Lois Dodd and his former wife, abstract painter Jean Cohen, purchased a yellow farmhouse where he continues to practice and develop his artistry today. 

While Katz frequently shows his fondness for Maine in his work — his Lincolnville residence and the state’s landscapes regularly appear in his art— he also displays his appreciation for the state through his contributions to local arts institutions. Since establishing his namesake foundation in 2004 with the mission of “support[ing] the work of emerging and underrecognized artists,” Katz has donated over 150 artworks across disciplines to the Portland Museum of Art (PMA), from paintings and drawings to sculptures and prints by artists the foundation has supported and acquired over decades.

Displayed at the museum in the form of a regularly rotating selection, the trove includes pieces like Robert Rauschenberg’s gritty sand and cement sculptural installation “Untitled, Early Egyptian” (1973), Martha Diamond’s architectural triptych painting “Central Character” (1983), and Philip Guston’s meditative landscape portrait, “Sunrise” (1979). Additionally, the PMA’s nearly year-long exhibition Alex Katz: Wedding Dress, featuring a selection of large-scale paintings focused on the artist’s interest in fashion, was organized by a curatorial team that included Katz himself and centered his longtime relationship with Maine’s largest and oldest public art institution. Next summer, his gifts to the PMA will be the focus of another new exhibition and publication, Chief Curator Shalini Le Gall told Hyperallergic, with more information to come.

“Many of the works bring experiences and ideas from beyond Maine’s borders to Portland and the PMA, specifically reinforcing the deep connections between Maine and New York, two regions with longstanding connections to the artist,” Le Gall continued, pointing to Diamond’s portrayal of New York skyscrapers and Guston’s abstract sunrise portrait as examples.

Works by contemporary emerging artists that Katz’s nonprofit has gifted to the museum also carry this thread, such as Brooklyn-based artist Marcus Leslie Singleton’s oil painting “The Writer” (2022), which depicts a seated figure dressed in bright orange and white clothing reading a text within the confines of a prison cell. Another example includes the autumnal-toned painting “Mixed Feelings” (2022) by Swiss-born, New York-based artist Yves Scherer, whose own practice spanning sculpture, painting, and lenticular prints in many ways parallels that of Katz’s.

Hannah Secord Wade Dog Fountain
Hannah Secord Wade, “Dog Fountain” (2019), acrylic on canvas, 60 x 48 x 1 1/2 inches (© Hannah Secord Wade, image courtesy Luc Demers via Portland Museum of Art, Maine)

Another central component of Katz’s gifts to the PMA consists of works by artists with deep roots in Maine, like Fairfield Porter, Marsden Hartley, Yvonne Jacquette, and Rackstraw Downes (who initially ventured to the state in the early ’70s on Katz’s advice). These donations also include local contemporaries such as Hannah Secord Wade, whose pale blue monochromatic “Dog Fountain” (2019) was donated to the museum by Katz’s foundation in 2021, making it the first piece by the painter to enter its collection.

“Understanding how artists work in our communities is especially significant given Katz’s connections to the state and its cultural identity,” wrote Le Gall.

Katz’s cultural patronage has also extended beyond the PMA to other arts institutions in the state. Between Colby College in Waterville, the Farnsworth Art Museum in Rockland, and Bowdoin College in Brunswick, Katz and his foundation have collectively gifted nearly 1,000 artworks by dozens of artists spanning postwar modernists like Ellsworth Kelly and Jasper Johns; longtime friends, including Dodd and Juan Gomez; and mid-career painters such as Merlin James and Elizabeth Peyton.

He has also donated hundreds of his own paintings to Maine’s institutions: In 1996, the Colby College Museum of Art famously dedicated an entire wing to Katz’s works, and institutions like Bowdoin and Farnsworth have exhibited his work in several shows over the years as the artist’s international reputation continues to expand.

“I liked the freedom of Maine,” Katz said in a 2022 interview, recalling his first impressions of the coastal state, where he keeps a studio and to which he returns for months each year. “You weren’t constrained by the bourgeoisie neighborhood where I was living in New York. I liked the light a lot too; it felt familiar, it felt like Queens where I grew up. I’ve been going to Maine ever since.



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