"Neel made portraiture into something else entirely. Most of her paintings were not commissions: She was brazen about approaching prospective models whose expressions, clothing, or way of carrying themselves caught her eye. 'She’d always say, 'I have to paint you,’ not, ‘Do you mind?’' remembers her daughter-in-law, Ginny Neel.
An Alice Neel painting reflects the way people actually look: the tension that we hold in our mouths, hands and eyes; the stress we can’t quite unstitch from our faces without the help of a mirror; the awkwardness of existing within a body. (The art historian Linda Nochlin, whom Alice painted in 1973, called her work 'portraits of a universal existential anxiety' that also illustrate 'the relative painfulness of sitting for a portrait.') It’s easy enough to compose one’s expression or posture for the time it takes to snap a photograph; it’s harder to do so over the course of multiple multi-hour interactive sittings. To be anachronistic, Neel’s portraits are the best rejoinder to selfie culture that I can think of.
The show, organized by Neel’s daughter-in-law Ginny, with help from Zwirner’s Bellatrix Hubert, is meant to be something of a corrective . . . 'Freedom,' [is] derived in part from a quote: 'When you’re an artist you’re searching for freedom,' Neel said. 'You never find it, ’cause there ain’t any freedom. But at least you search for it. In fact, art could be called the search.'"
Read the full feature in Vogue
Alice Neel: Freedom is on view at 537 West 20th Street in New York through April 13, 2019.
Image: Alice Neel, Pregnant Julie and Algis, 1967 (detail)