Known for her portraits of family, friends, writers, poets, artists, students, singers, salesmen, activists, and more, Alice Neel created forthright, intimate, and, at times, humorous paintings that quietly engaged with political and social issues.
InAlice Neel, Uptown, writer and curator Hilton Als brings together a body of paintings and works on paper of African-Americans, Latinos, Asians, and other people of color for the first time. Highlighting the innate diversity of Neel’s approach, the selection looks at those whose portraits are often left out of the art-historical canon and how this extraordinary painter captured them; “what fascinated her was the breadth of humanity that she encountered,” Als writes.
The publication, which opens with a foreword by Jeremy Lewison, advisor to The Estate of Alice Neel, explores Neel’s interest in the diversity of uptown New York and the variety of people amongst whom she lived. This group of portraits includes well-known figures such as playwright, actress, and author Alice Childress; the sociologist Horace R. Cayton, Jr.; the community activist Mercedes Arroyo; and the widely published academic Harold Cruse; alongside more anonymous individuals of a nurse, a ballet dancer, a taxi driver, a businessman, and a local kid who ran errands for Neel.
In short and illuminating texts on specific works written in his characteristic narrative style, Als writes about the history of each sitter and offers insights into Neel and her work, while adding his own perspective. A contemporary and personal approach to the artist’s oeuvre, Als’s project is “an attempt to honor not only what Neel saw, but the generosity of her seeing.”
This catalogue is published on the occasion of the 2017 exhibitions of Neel’s paintings and drawings at David Zwirner, New York, and Victoria Miro, London.