Stuart Blog 2: Neel Life Stories

Sunday, September 19, 2004

Neel Life Stories

Neel Life Stories

Neel Life Stories
Alice Neel's portraits stripped her subjects bare -- often literally -- and expertly revealed their inner lives. On the eve of a Whitney retrospective, Neel's subjects reflect on sitting for a modern master.

By Edith Newhall

Probably no other twentieth-century American figurative painter developed as singular a style as Alice Neel. Her provocative portraits of art-world celebrities like Andy Warhol and Allen Ginsberg -- along with dozens of other people who caught her fancy -- made her the quintessential artist's artist. But broad public recognition of Neel's work was anything but immediate. Her portraits and dark social commentaries seemed hopelessly out of date during the mid-century decades of Abstract Expressionism; it wasn't until the seventies that Neel, who died in 1984, really began to enjoy success. Now, 26 years after her first Whitney retrospective, figurative painting is the artistic style of the moment and Neel, its most uncompromising proponent, is about to be fĂȘted again. "The Art of Alice Neel," a traveling exhibit organized by the Philadelphia Museum of Art and opening at the Whitney on June 29, stands to reveal the painter not just as an idiosyncratic voice but an influential one.

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