A MAJOR retrospective of the work of Alice Neel opens at the Gemeente Museum in the Netherlands next month. The exhibition, Alice Neel Collector of Souls brings to light the American portrait painter’s significant contribution to twentieth century art which to date, is little known in the Netherlands. Neel’s enlightened approach to portraiture influenced many contemporary artists, including Marlene Dumas and Elizabeth Peyton.
Neel painted the people she encountered during her early married life in Cuba, her subsequent moves to Greenwich Village, Spanish Harlem and eventually, uptown New York. The artist explained, “I paint my time using the people as evidence.”
Neel painted the moods of her sitters, often in unflattering poses. Impatient, awkward or disillusioned, her models appear unguarded like victims of an ill-timed snapshot. In the sagging flesh of a fellow artist, or the grumpy demeanour of a lover, Neel sought to expose their truthfulness. Her comic portrayals of Andy Warhol superstar, Jackie Curtis and their partner, Ritta Redd highlight the ambiguity of gender identity and equally, the artist’s liberated views at the time.
Neel was interested in the perception of motherhood within different societies. Throughout her life, she produced several mother- and child-themed works which included loving portraits of her own children but also those that appear macabre or unsettling. Having suffered the loss of her own daughter, she was less concerned with depicting an idealised image of motherhood. These more contentious works proved to be a great source of interest for feminists of the 1970s. Although supportive of women’s rights, Neel did not brand herself a feminist, “If they [feminists] had a little more brains … they should have given me credit for being able to see not the feminine world, but my own world,” she said.
by Miranda Charalambous
Alice Neel Collector of Souls runs from November 5, 2016 to February 12, 2017 at The Gemeente Museum, Stadhoulderslaan 41, 2517 HV The Hague, Holland
Tel: 31 (0)70 3381111
Front page image: Neel in her Spanish Harlem apartment c. 1940, Photograph by Sam Brody, Estate of Alice Neel
Tags: Alice Neel > American > art > artists > contemporay > Cuba > Elizabeth Peyton > exhibition > feminism > Gemeente Museum > Marlene Dumas > New York > painting > portrait > The Netherlands