If you haven’t studied art, you may not have heard of Alice Neel. Now’s your time to catch up.
Born in 1900, Neel moved to New York with her husband, Cuban painter Carlos Enriquez, in the late 1920s and lived there for most of the rest of her life, until her death at age 84. Neel was known for her portraits of family, friends, writers, poets, artists, and everyday people, and her art often engaged with social and political issues. Now, a new exhibit and book bring together her a selection of her work as a celebration of the diversity of New York City.
Titled Alice Neel, Uptown and curated by Hilton Als, the exhibit focuses on Neels’ paintings of people of color, who are often left out of the art historical canon. A book of the same title will be released in June. ‘What fascinated her was the breadth of humanity that she encountered,’ Als writes. He adds:
From the start, Alice Neel’s artistry made life different for me, or not so much different as more enlightened. I grew up in Brooklyn, East New York, and Crown Heights during the 1970s when Neel, after years of obscurity, was finally getting her due. I recall first seeing her work in a book, and what shocked me more than her outrageous and accurate sense of color and form — did we really look like that? We did! — was the realization that her subject was my humanity. There was a quality I shared with her subjects, all of whom were seen through the lens of Neel’s interest, and compassion. What did it matter that I grew up in a world that was different than that which Linda Nochlin, and Andy Warhol, and Jackie Curtis, inhabited? We were all as strong and fragile and present as life allowed. And Neel saw.
[….] by painting Latinos, blacks, and Asians, Neel was breaking away from the canon of Western art. She was not, in short, limiting her view to people who looked like herself. Rather, she was opening portraiture up to include those persons who were not generally seen in its history. Alice Neel, Uptown, the first comprehensive look at Neel’s portraits of people of color, is an attempt to honor not only what Neel saw, but the generosity behind her seeing.
The exhibit is on view at the David Zwirner gallery’s 525 and 533 W 19th Street spaces through April 22nd, when it will move to the Victoria Miro in London from May 18 — July 29.
Top image credit: Black Spanish-American Family, 1950 Oil on panel 30 x 22 inches (76.2 x 55.9 cm) Private Collection, Chicago. ¬© The Estate of Alice Neel. Courtesy David Zwirner, New York/London and Victoria Miro, London
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