Alice Neel: Freedom
537 West 20th Street, New York
February 26—April 13, 2019
On view at David Zwirner’s 537 West 20th Street gallery in New York from February 26 through April 13, 2019, Alice Neel: Freedom will include a selection of paintings and significant works on paper by Alice Neel (1900–1984). With a range of works spanning her career, this exhibition will focus primarily on Neel’s portrayal of the nude figure and will demonstrate how the artist resolutely challenged traditional perceptions of sexuality, motherhood, and beauty.
One of the foremost American figurative painters of the twentieth century, Neel was a humanist—she was fascinated by people. She loved to paint them in all their complexities—to penetrate and reveal their fears and anxieties, their defiance and survival. She also loved to paint the unadorned human figure. Her nudes explore the body with frankness while celebrating the individuality of each of her subjects, and they exemplify the freedom and courage with which she approached her work and her life. In their mastery of form, color, and implied social commentary, her nudes are as relevant today as when they were painted.
Organized by Ginny Neel of The Estate of Alice Neel, the exhibition will comprise significant loans from museum and private collections. It will be accompanied by a fully illustrated catalogue that will include newly commissioned scholarship by Helen Molesworth, a foreword by Ginny Neel, and a contribution by Marlene Dumas.
Alice Neel: Painter of Modern Life was a major museum survey of 72 works by Alice Neel. The exhibition travelled throughout Europe through January 2018.
The exhibition began with early portraits created in Havana and paintings made in the 1930s when the artist was living in New York's Greenwich Village. The later works included paintings Neel made in the Upper West Side of Manhattan, where she lived and worked from 1962 until 1984. The exhibition was curated by Jeremy Lewison, who has worked with the Estate of Alice Neel since 2003.
Neel persisted passionately with figurative painting throughout the post-war period, gaining recognition for her work from the 1960s onwards. The New York Review of Books observes how, in her later portraits, Neel was able to "unflinchingly depict the gamut of human vulnerabilities, emotions and attitudes." Her first retrospective was organized by the Whitney Museum of American Art in New York in 1974 when Neel was 74. As Peter Schjeldahl writes in The New Yorker, "Outlasting insult and condescension, a woman among competitive men, and a figurative artist in times agog for abstraction, she triumphed."
Painter of Modern Life was first shown at the Ateneum Art Museum (part of the Finnish National Gallery) in Helsinki before traveling to the Gemeentemuseum in The Hague in 2016, and the Fondation Vincent van Gogh in 2017. The exhibition opened at Deichtorhallen in Hamburg in October 2017. Painter of Modern Life was accompanied by a fully illustrated publication with texts by Jeremy Lewison and Susanna Pettersson.
Curated by Hilton Als, winner of the 2017 Pulitzer Prize for Criticism, Alice Neel, Uptown was exhibited at David Zwirner in New York from February 23 – April 22, and was on view at Victoria Miro in London through July 29.
One of the foremost American figurative painters of the twentieth century, Neel is known for her portraits of family, friends, and neighbors as well as the writers, poets, and other cultural and political figures she encountered in a career spanning the 1920s to the 1980s. Alice Neel, Uptown presented works made during the five decades Neel spent in upper Manhattan, first in Spanish Harlem, where she moved in 1938, and later the Upper West Side just south of Harlem, where she lived from 1962 until 1984.
Accompanying the exhibition is a fully illustrated publication with texts highlighting specific paintings. Writing in his characteristic narrative style, Als introduces the sitters and offers insights into Neel, her work, and process while adding his personal perspective. "Might one call Neel a kind of essayist of the canvas?" Als asks in the book's introduction. "…I was immediately consumed by the stories she worked so hard to tell: about loneliness, togetherness, and the drama of self-presentation, spurred by the drama of being…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."
Portrait of Alice Neel 1976 – 1982 is an intimate record of the artist by the Brooklyn-based filmmaker Michel Auder. The two became friends in 1975 when Neel (1900-1984) was living on the Upper West Side, just south of Harlem. As Auder recalled in an interview with Art in America, "I met her when she was 75 years old, just socially. She was sitting in a chair at a party, and going "Oh, you have such a long nose ... And that chin, like a Roman emperor!" She would do that to everyone." A close relationship developed between Neel and her portraitist, who would visit her often. Drawing on extensive footage he shot of Neel over the course of their five year friendship—at home, while painting, on vacation, and in public—Auder's film is a revelatory and tender document of the artist's life.
Born in France in 1945, Auder bought his first portable video camera in 1969. Moving to New York City the same year, he became immersed in the downtown art scene, and was a pioneer of early video art influenced by Warhol's screen tests and French New Wave directors such as Jean-Luc Godard. The analogue vignettes with which Auder captures Neel are typical of some his works, which are characterized by a chronicling of daily life with low-quality cameras in a raw and experimental style. Following its initial release in 1986, a longer version of the film was produced in 1999 with funding from the Philadelphia Museum of Art.
Watch: A Portrait of a Painter
This New York Times video clip from 2007 features an excerpt from Michel Auder's film
Read: Alice Neel's Love of Harlem and the Neighbors She Painted There
The New York Times review of Alice Neel, Uptown by Jason Farago
Image courtesy the artist and Martos Gallery, New York