Through August 1, 2021, the retrospective of American artist Alice Neel (1900–1984) now at The Met focuses attention primarily on her radical "pictures of people" and cityscapes made in 20th-century New York. Alice Neel: People Come First is a career-spanning survey with approximately 100 paintings, drawings, and watercolors that secure the artist's groundbreaking role in the American art canon—in humanist works that convey profound empathy, a much-needed vision for today's pandemic-weary viewers.
Take a virtual tour of the exhibition.
"There is a mournful chord and an existential shiver in all of her art — life hanging by a filament, mixed with the will to survive," writes critic Jerry Saltz in Vulture of the current survey.
In works like her Andy Warhol portrait, showing his wound from an assassination attempt, Neel was unflinching. Saltz notes, "While the male-dominated art world refused to notice Neel, she made a clear point of noticing men, sparing nothing in her depictions of them, showing her desire, disdain, and boldness as few had before."
New Yorker Neel was a champion for social justice who "had access to various social scenes, from Andy Warhol’s Factory crew to civil rights leaders, the gay community and locals in Spanish Harlem, as she lived on 108th Street in Morningside Park," notes Nadja Sayej in the Observer.
With works portraying pregnant women, new mothers, old women and even childbirth, "Neel gives us women as real, feeling everyday Atlases: living, dying, sexual. These are not the romantic, damaged, fragile, venomous, or hysterical objects of the male mind," writes Saltz.
“For me, people come first,” Neel declared in 1950. “I have tried to assert the dignity and eternal importance of the human being.”
Following its presentation at The Met, the exhibition will travel to Guggenheim Bilbao (September 17, 2021–January 23, 2022) and the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco (March 12, 2022–July 10, 2022).
The exhibition is accompanied by a fully illustrated catalogue published by Yale University Press.