Elizabeth McAvoy, the face of Alex Katz’s High Line billboard

katherine and elizabeth

Katherine and Elizabeth


If you’ve strolled along the High Line in the past six months, and managed to look up between sips of Blue Bottle Coffee and captioning the perfect #highline ‘gram, you’ve probably seen Alex Katz’s public art commission on the side of the TF Cornerstone building in NYC’s Meatpacking District. Katz’s installation of Katherine and Elizabeth (2012) is part of a long-term public art collaboration between the High Line and the Whitney Museum that introduces new art to the space every eight to twelve months. Thus, it is no coincidence that Katz’s work is installed directly across from the Whitney Museum’s new home, set to open on May 1. Katz’s works were first displayed at the the Whitney in 1974 and the museum hosted the artist’s first major retrospective in 1986. While the Katz installation serves to link the current Upper East Side space with the museum’s new digs, the public art collaboration project between the High Line and the Whitney is about more than just bridging uptown and downtown. The Whitney director Adam Weinberg said that the installation is part of “‘reconnecting with the neighbourhood where we had a deep historical connection,” noting that the Whitney’s brand new Renzo Piano building is just blocks from the museum’s original home on West 8th Street in Greenwich Village. Katz’s history with the Whitney as well as his previous involvement in public art projects, such as the 2005 installation of the Give Me Tomorrow billboard above the ever-popular B Bar and Grill and the 2010 New York City Taxi Project, made him a natural choice for the collaboration’s first installation. But how did Katz’s work featuring RISD’s own Elizabeth McEvoy make the cut? The curators chose Katz’s 2012 painting, Katherine and Elizabeth, given that it would read well from a long distance. But if you haven’t had the chance to check out the scaled-up 17-by-29 foot digital print of Elizabethyou might have the opportunity to run into the real-life version on College Hill. Well actually, Elizabeth McAvoy is currently studying abroad in Italy, but keep an eye out for her next Fall. In the meantime, check out my interview with Katz’s RISD-raised muse after the jump!

high line image

BlogDH: How long have you been a subject of Alex Katz?

E: I started sitting for him in 2010, so I guess five years now.

BlogDH: What it’s like to sit for and be Katz’s subject?

E: His studio is beautiful. He has a summer home in Maine, which is where I’m from, so the painting sessions take place in his studio on a small lake. While he paints I have to sit very still for a couple of hours. So, for entertainment, he tells me various stories from his life as an artist, people he’s met, and just general thoughts on pop culture. He’s hilarious.

BlogDH: How did you meet?

E: My mom was working as a curator for the Farnsworth Art Museum at the time [2010], and they were doing a show of his work. He mentioned needing younger models to paint and she volunteered me — which I am very glad she did.

BlogDH: What has it been like having all of this press with your face on it and having your visage on the High Line?

E: Most of the time I don’t see the press, it was only when the billboard went up that Alex called me and told me to check out the article in the Wall Street Journal.  I did however recently search “#alexkatz” on Instagram and found a picture of myself that was at Art Basel Miami that someone had posted with the caption, “standing next to my doppleganger.” So, I guess I’ve found my twin.

BlogDH: What’s your favorite part of the High Line?

E: From a design perspective, I love how the High Line has introduced a new urban feel to lower Manhattan, giving pedestrians a space among industrialization by the integration of running paths, benches, and small gardens along with walkway.

BlogDH: Do you ever get recognized?

E: (laughs) No…that would be cool.

BlogDH: Who are your favorite artists and biggest influences besides Katz?

E: I gravitate towards illustrators like David Shrigley, or designers like Charles and Ray Eames, who always have an element of humor in their work. I think people appreciate interacting with fun environments, and are more likely to have a memorable experience because of it.

BlogDH: What is your favorite art museum you’ve been to and one you’d like to visit some day?

E: I love love love the ICA in Boston. Their permanent collection is great and as a bonus they have an awesome gift shop. I’d love to visit Dia:Beacon someday. I’m a big fan of big art.

BlogDH: If you could get coffee with any artist, living or dead, who would it be and why?

E: Matisse. My all time favorite. He’s a master of color and composition, and was fearless in trying new materials.

BlogDH: What’s being an Industrial Design major like?

E: It’s a mixture of learning hands-on techniques for manufacturing and methods of design-thinking. The variety keeps it interesting. It’s hard to get bored, which I like.

BlogDH: What has been your favorite class at RISD so far?

E: Hard to choose, but I took a Visual Culture class that was really interesting. It was basically a semester-long conversation on how we view visual media in the modern world. Out of the thousands of images we see each day, what we actually remember seems so random.

BlogDH: What’s your favorite piece of work you’ve made?

E: Over my internship last summer I made a longboard and designed a graphic for it.  The process was very labor intensive but totally worth it.

RISD project

BlogDH: What’s the most outlandish thing you’ve had to do in a RISD class?

E: Nothing too crazy yet. There was one day when we got to play with cats and dogs as research for designing pet carriers though. That wasn’t outlandish, just really fun.

BlogDH: What do you miss most about RISD/Providence while abroad?

E: Ken’s Ramen because it’s perfect any day.

BlogDH: What’s your favorite place on College Hill? (read: where can we spot you in the flesh come September?)

E: Can’t beat walking along Benefit Street when the leaves change color in the Fall. That sounds overly romanticized, but it is beautiful.

Images via, via, and via Elizabeth McAvoy.

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