7 June 2021
Alice Neel: People Come First
At the Metropolitan Museum of Art
with Chris Boïcos
Alice Neel, Jackie Curtis and Ritta Redd, 1970
This ambitious survey – the first in New York in 20 years – positions Neel as one of the century’s most radical painters, and a champion of social justice.
Images of activists demonstrating against fascism and racism appear alongside paintings of victims of the Great Depression, portraits of Neel’s neighbors in Spanish Harlem, leaders of political organizations, queer artists and performers and members of New York’s global diaspora. The exhibition also highlights Neel’s erotic watercolors and pastels from the 1930s, her depictions of mothers, and her paintings of nude figures (some of them visibly pregnant), all of whose candor and irreverence are without precedent in the history of Western art.
The sum total of her work testifies to the drama of New York’s streets, the quotidian beauty of its buildings, and the diversity, resilience, and passion of its residents. “For me, people come first,” Neel declared in 1950. “I have tried to assert the dignity and eternal importance of the human being.”
Alice Neel, Geoffrey Hendricks and Brian, 1978