ALICE NEEL: Inspiring a new generation to take up portraiture


Excellent painting show at David Zwirner (525 West 19th Street, NYC) of Alice Neel’s portraits made over the five decades she lived uptown, first in Spanish Harlem (1938-1962) and then the Upper West Side (1962 until her death in 1984).

She’s known for her intimate portraits of family, friends, writers, activists, and other everyday people from her neighborhood.

The show is beautifully curated by Hilton Als (photo lower left), writer for The New Yorker. The New York Times called the show nostalgic. I disagree, it feels fresh, young and vibrant to me.

What struck me immediately upon entering the gallery was the crowd: it was really young.  Alice Neel’s work casts a mighty spell and these young artists and art lovers were hooked by her paintings – and her writing – many were poring over her diaries. Judging by how intently many were studying the color and form of her paintings, I expect Alice Neel to become a  major art world influencer for a new generation.

There’s also going to be a screening of the Alice Neel documentary on April 3. Check with Zwirner Gallery for info on tickets – although I hear they are sold out.

I’m going out on a limb here, but I predict this show will kick off a movement to small-scale portraiture – and especially to portraits that include a more diverse array of people. The scale of this work is perfect for artists today who are working in smaller studios and who are inspired to paint their friends and neighbors. Who knows it might also be the beginning of a new collector class who will want to buy small-scale portraits for their apartments.

More photos of the work below:

Hilton Als – gallery talk

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