Alice Neel: Six Decades
Art Basel OVR: 20c
28—31 October 2020
Six paintings from six different decades in the life of Alice Neel (1900–1984) are brought together in an exhibition that highlights not just the evolution of her career, but also the immense range and depth of her oeuvre. Beginning with a rare early portrait from 1934 and ending with an intimate study of a father and son painted in 1980, the presentation chronicles Neel's rise from relative obscurity to her position as one of America's most celebrated painters.
Born in Pennsylvania, Alice Neel trained at the Philadelphia School of Design for Women at a time when it was unusual for women to pursue art as a full-time career. After moving to New York and settling there permanently, she dedicated herself to figuration and found herself increasingly drawn to portraiture. Although frustrated by the lack of attention that her work received during the 1950s and 1960s—a period dominated by Abstract Expressionism, Pop Art and Minimalism—Neel stuck determinedly to her chosen path. The result of this tenacity is an expansive and varied oeuvre that spans most of the twentieth century and documents an era of profound social change. From society and political figures to neighbours and friends, Neel captured the highs and lows of her age from an intensely human perspective: through the people who embodied it.
By the 1970s, Neel finally received critical recognition for the candid and truthful nature of her work and expressive technique. Alice Neel's oeuvre is a testament to her intense interest in people from all walks of life and her unshakeable faith in portraiture as a means of communication. For the artist, it was a genre that allowed her to forge a psychological connection with her subjects. As she herself said: 'I have this overweening interest in humanity. Even if I'm not working I'm still analysing people.' Alice Neel's distinctive paintings and extraordinary achievements have only grown in stature and significance since her death in 1984. Over the last three decades, her work has been the subject of numerous international exhibitions. A travelling retrospective opens at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York in the Spring of 2021 and a monographic exhibition opens at the Centre Pompidou in Paris in 2022.