Alice Neel: Hot Off the Griddle

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Alice Neel: Hot Off the Griddle

Alice Neel: Hot Off the Griddle

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Neel met Carlos Enríquez, a wealthy Cuban painter, and married him less than a year later, moving to Havana. Crowned the ‘court painter of the underground’, she favoured subjects who were unfamiliar in art, among them pregnant women, queer performers, and Black and Puerto Rican children. The Barbican’s exhibition treats Neel’s politics as something of a curio, a by-product of the humanistic value she places on life rather than the other way around. Crowned the "court painter of the underground,” her canvases celebrate those who were too often marginalised in society: labour leaders, Black and Puerto Rican children, pregnant women, Greenwich Village eccentrics, civil rights activists and queer performers. For some, Neel’s depictions of the boy can be seen as a sense of foreboding, from the cheerful little character seen standing with his leg pressed up against the chair in a painting from 1953 to the more pensive personality that comes later .

The Harlem portraits that feature alongside In The Street —of a young Georgie Acre, Neel’s neighbour who would later go to prison for murder, holding a knife and wearing a costume necklace; of a Spanish family sitting on a stoop in front of a lattice gate—are from just moments in a career that spanned the 20th Century (Neel was born in 1900). Will Gompertz, Barbican Artistic Director, said: “We are delighted to present Alice Neel: Hot Off The Griddle.She was also ahead of the curve in her socialist art philosophy, painting people who were not usually portrayed because of their race, status, sexuality or views. It’s a juxtaposition that verges on glib—Hall in his ushanka, Sprinkle in her leathers—but it speaks to Neel’s keen sense of her own moment as history and her delight in its contradictions and weirdnesses. You can see this in the bandages of a Harlem TB patient with a collapsed lung, but also in the stitches and corset holding together Andy Warhol’s body, post-Valerie Solana’s shooting. Neel painted right up to her death and was known to phone friends to exclaim: ‘Guess what, I’m still alive! Subscribe to our newsletter to get the breaking news, eye-opening interviews, and incisive critical takes that drive the conversation forward.

Sign up to unlock our digital magazines and also receive the latest news, events, offers and partner promotions. Even the children are sitting quietly: the girls of Black Spanish-American Family (1950) with their hands folded in their laps, the daughter in The Family (1970) looking watchfully back at us. The Jack Kerouac film ‘Pull my Daisy’ from 1959 plays, and Neel takes part alongside Allen Ginsberg, among other artists and poets. Then followed international recognition with an exhibition in Moscow in 1981, which was close to her heart. In every painting, there’s an anchor that pulls you in, though, whether in the pose, details of dress, or Neel’s endlessly fascinating treatment of hands.

These early-ish paintings are dark and weird, capturing the bohemian eccentricity of downtown New York. Before leaving, visitors could see a film of Neel being recognised by and inducted into the American Art establishment. The downstairs galleries at the Barbican are dedicated to highlights of Neel’s later portrait paintings from the 1960s and 1970s, when she made some of her most celebrated work. Part of what’s being represented is the trust itself, the willingness to expose vulnerability, on which the painting’s existence depends. In recent years, the politics of her work has given her cult status among a younger generation of artists.

The exhibition charts Neel’s painting during the Great Depression, when she became one of the first artists to enrol on the Federal Art Project of the Works Progress Administration (WPA). Drawing on international public and private collections, Alice Neel: Hot Off The Griddle brings together works spanning her 60-year career. Then she paints Andy Warhol and the poet Frank O’Hara, she paints the activist Mother Bloor and she paints a taxi driver. Neel painted and drew her neighbor, Georgie, starting from around ten years old, many times throughout the 1950s, inadvertently documenting his growth from a child to a teenager.

They aren’t all good paintings, some are even absolutely terrible (*cough* Frank O’Hara *cough*), but Neel’s canvases are a level playing field where everyone is invited. Face versus body, the mind in spite of the physique, or perhaps the life itself: that seems a steady fascination.

  • Fruugo ID: 258392218-563234582
  • EAN: 764486781913
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