Alex Katz, Painter and Patron

The MFA showcases the legendary American artist.

The Arts Beat: Alex Katz

Clockwise from top left, Alex and Ada: Orange Hat, 1990; Ulla in Black Hat, 2010; Gray Day, 1992. (Courtesy of the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston.)

For almost 60 years, painter Alex Katz’s style has been instantly recognizable: crisp lines, lush planes of color, and odd angles that make portraits and landscapes pop. His work has graced magazines, galleries the world over, and even taxicabs in his native New York. Now Boston gets a generous sample with a new exhibit at the Museum of Fine Arts, starting April 28.

The focus of the 125 works on display will be Katz’s prints from woodcuts and other materials, which distill his aesthetic to the basics. “I paint almost like printing,” says 84-year-old Katz, “but a painting has a thousand tones, while a print comes down to five.” The exhibit was organized by Vienna’s Albertina — perhaps the world’s best museum of prints and drawings — and makes its only U.S. stop here, with the MFA adding Katz paintings from its collection.

Over the past few years, Katz’s relationship with the museum has blossomed as he’s made gifts from his catalog, including a 300-print archive that spans five decades of his career. Even more, he has donated pieces by 18 other artists, representing the kind of younger, more current work that the MFA conspicuously lacks. “It’s no great secret that we have very significant gaps in our contemporary collection,” MFA contemporary-art chair Edward Saywell says. “Gifts of this magnitude are so important to us.” Or, as the typically blunt Katz puts it, “Once you leave the 19th century, it’s slim pickins.”

Katz’s one request? That the artwork he gives be displayed, not packed away. He notes how New England museums have generally been slow to collect contemporary art, so there’s a better chance his gifts will be seen here and make an impact. “With contemporary art, it’s alive and moving,” he says.