Freedom | David Zwirner
Innumerable nudes are scattered across millennia of art history, but none look like Alice Neel’s. With radical frankness, she painted bodies outside the scope of most visual art: those of pregnant women, of children, of a blissfully domestic couple peeing in a bathroom. There’s a touch of the surreal to her demonic reds and sickly greens—and, as often accompanies the surreal, there’s also a touch of the uncomfortably alive. The subjects stare out from the canvas and feel uncannily real. But Neel rejected traditional realism. Of her style, she once said: “I hate equating a person and a room and a chair. Compositionally, a room, a chair, a table, and a person are all the same for me, but a person is human and psychological.” Instead of the omnipresent male gaze, here the gaze is Neel’s, in which nakedness is not explicitly sexual and body parts can assume proportions untethered from the purely representational. A mother’s breasts sling out like red-tipped yams. A penis, thin and long, slithers like an enoki mushroom. A child’s hands clutch and creep like opera gloves filled with hay. Through April 13, David Zwirner will host “Alice Neel: Freedom,” a new exhibition of significant paintings and works on paper from Neel’s six-decade career. Below, we present a selection of the glorious nudes for which she’s known.

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