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.
Although she showed sporadically early in her career, from the 1960s onwards her work was exhibited widely in the United States. Neel was honored with her first retrospective at the Whitney Museum of American Art in New York in 1974. The Whitney again mounted a solo exhibition of the artist’s work in 2000 after her death. That exhibition, titled The Art of Alice Neel, traveled to the Addison Gallery of American Art at Phillips Academy in Andover, Massachusetts; Philadelphia Museum of Art, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania; Walker Art Center, Minneapolis, Minnesota; and Denver Art Museum, Denver, Colorado. Additionally in 2008, the Moore College of Art & Design, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania (where Neel was a student) hosted an exhibition of her works on paper, titled Alice Neel: Drawing from Life.
Currently, her work is included in the traveling group exhibition, Paint Made Flesh, at Frist Center for the Visual Arts, Nashville, Tennessee (until May 10, 2009); The Phillips Collection, Washington, D.C. (June 20 - September 13, 2009); and Memorial Art Gallery of the University of Rochester, Rochester, New York (October 24, 2009 - January 3, 2010).
Next year, the Museum of Fine Arts Houston, Houston, Texas, will mount an expansive, highly anticipated survey of Neel’s work (March 21 - June 13, 2010), co-curated by Jeremy Lewison and Barry Walker, which will travel to Whitechapel Art Gallery, London, England (July 9 - September 19, 2010), and Moderna Museet, Malmö, Sweden (October 10, 2010 - January 2, 2011). The exhibition catalogue will include essays by Professor Tamar Garb, Professor Robert Storr, Jeremy Lewison, and Barry Walker.
In 2002, Rizzoli published a monograph focusing solely on Neel’s remarkable portraits of women with an essay by Carolyn Carr. A documentary film about the artist, directed by her grandson Andrew Neel, was released by SeeThink Productions in 2007.
Neel’s work can be found in the collections of Art Institute of Chicago, Chicago, Illinois; The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York; The Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles, California; The Museum of Modern Art, New York; National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C.; Whitney Museum of American Art, New York; Moderna Museet, Stockholm, Sweden, Tate Modern, London, England; among many others.
Please visit the recently launched website: www.aliceneel.com