Monday, June 14, 2021

Alice Neel: People Come First

Untitled, 1935 (photo: Francis Levy)

“For me, People are the first premise"said Alice Neel."My work is a monument to them.” She used Balzac’s The Human Comedy as the catchphrase for her paintings which pay homage to a parade of famous and unknown figures in politics and the arts. But as the curators point out “the personal is political" for Neel. And it's evidenced by the intimacy and sometimes provocative sexuality of much of her work. The bathroom scene of Neel with her lover John Rothchild from l935 is an ode to body functions. But she took her politics personally. “Nazis  Murder Jews” records the placards of the May Day rally of l936. The curent show is a gallery of left wing figures. Baltimore union leader John Whalen (1935) is portrayed with his Daily Worker and Mike Gold (1952) is depicted with The New Masses, which he edited. .James Farmer of CORE (1964) is another prominent activist, Neel memorialized. On the arts side, the show is a paen to at least a certain aspect of the modernist scene. John Perreault appears in the nude and there's Henry Geldzahler (1972), “Linda Nochlin and Daisy” (l973) and Adrienne Rich (1973). Alice Neel: People Come First is the title of the show at the Met and there was a period when she regarded the abstract movement as lacking in humanism. Yet she would later say “I don’t think there is any painting that doesn't have good abstract qualities.” One of the most moving examples of this is actually an early piece, “Futility of Effort” (1930), a mournful painting produced after the death of her daughter Santillana (and the contemporaneous report of a crib death) in which her child is represented merely by a blotch of black. “Addiction,” (1931), her Snake Pit, is an almost cubist depiction of a year spent in a mental hospital. NewYork was the backdrop for practically all of Neel’s work. One of the guilty pleasures of the current exhibit is that of recognition. Ninth Avenue, l07th and Broadway, Spanish Harlem, Central Park are all part of the artist’s personal Baedeker.

Read "Rome Journal: The Screaming Pope" by Francis Levy, HuffPost

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