David Zwirner is pleased to present two concurrent exhibitions of Alice Neel's work, the first since announcing its representation of her Estate: Alice Neel: Selected Works at David Zwirner (533 West 19th Street) and Alice Neel: Nudes of the 1930s at Zwirner & Wirth (32 East 69th Street).
Alice Neel (1900-1984) is widely regarded as one of the most important American painters of the twentieth century. As the American avant-garde of the 1940s and 50s renounced figuration, Neel reaffirmed her signature approach to the human body. Working from life and memory, Neel created daringly honest portraits of her family and friends, downtrodden neighbors and public figures, art-world colleagues and poets, lovers and strangers. Her choice of subjects was a reflection of her personal life and an expression of the political and social milieu in which she lived, rather than an intentional program. Through her choice of subjects, her work was engaged with issues related to gender and racial inequality, family dynamics, labor struggles, and violence. At the same time, her reexamination of the human body paralleled the cultural upheaval of the sexual revolution and women's movement: her work challenged the Western artistic tradition that regarded a woman's proper place in the arts as sitter or muse. Calling herself a "collector of souls," Neel is acclaimed for not only capturing the truth of the individual, but also reflecting the era in which she lived.
The exhibition at David Zwirner focuses on a selection of figurative paintings, ranging in date from the late 1940s to early 1980s. These revelatory works reflect the evolution of Neel's commitment to depicting the people around her with compassion, accuracy, and freedom, as seen in the portraits of her family members, such as her son Hartley (1952), whose image she continued to paint during the different stages of his life. Throughout her career Neel was attracted to unusual characters whose physical attributes and personalities were intriguing and visually appealing to her. Her strong power of observation and unique ability to empathize is reflected in her psychologically charged portraiture, which captures the individuality of her sitters in an unforgiving yet tender manner. This is especially evident in one of her most remarkable paintings, Annie Sprinkle (1982), in which the burlesque performance artist is shown posing in the leather outfit of a dominatrix. The unabashed quality of this image demonstrates the felicitous communion Neel had with the people she painted.
Zwirner & Wirth presents a selection of nudes from the 1930s. These early paintings, watercolors, and drawings are characterized by their overt honesty and convey the autobiographical nature of her work. Alienation (1935), which shows Neel lying voluptuously in bed while her longtime friend and lover John Rothschild stands over her, exposes the confessional intimacy inherent to her work. From an early age Neel was drawn to the visual trope of nudity, a subject that at the time was not considered appropriate for a female artist to pursue. Instead of making genteel "feminine" compositions, her nudes deconstruct, contradict, and satirize the limitations of traditional gender ideologies. One early example is Nadya and Nona (1933), a provocative painting of two nude women lying in bed which examines issues of sexuality while deliberately eschewing erotic and seductive overtones.
Both exhibitions are organized in association with Jeremy Lewison Limited.