Alice Neel: Freedom
Text by Helen Molesworth. Introduction by Ginny Neel. Contribution by Marlene Dumas
One of the foremost American figurative painters of the twentieth century, it is not surprising that Alice Neel was a humanist—she was fascinated by people.
Known for her daringly honest portraits, Neel loved to paint people in all their complexities—to penetrate and reveal their fears and anxieties, how they defiance and survival. She also loved to paint the unadorned human figure. Her nudes, in particular, explore the body with frankness while celebrating the individuality of each of her subjects, and they exemplify the freedom and courage with which she approached her work and her life.
Through her paintings and works on paper, Neel was able to free herself from the expected inhibitions and crippling taboos that were placed on women and focus on the beauty and nuanced complexity of flesh and the human body. In their mastery of form, color, and implied social commentary, her nudes are as relevant today as when they were painted.
Freedom documents the solo exhibition of the artist’s work at David Zwirner in New York in 2019. Including works that span the 1920s to the 1980s, this presentation focuses primarily on the nude figure—whether male or female, adult or child—and demonstrates how Neel rebelled against and challenged the traditional perceptions of sexuality, motherhood, and beauty in our society. The catalogue includes newly commissioned scholarship by Helen Molesworth and an introduction by Ginny Neel of The Estate of Alice Neel.
Publisher: David Zwirner Books
Artists: Alice Neel
Contributors: Helen Molesworth, Ginny Neel
Designer: Miko McGinty
Printer: VeronaLibri, Verona
Publication Date: 2019
Dimensions: 8 ½ × 10 ½ in | 21.6 × 26.7 cm
Reproductions: 52 color
Retail: $50 | £40
Alice Neel was born in 1900 in Merion Square, Pennsylvania, and died in 1984 in New York. With a practice spanning the 1920s to the 1980s, Neel is widely regarded as one of the foremost American figurative painters of the twentieth century. Based in New York, Neel chose her subjects from her family, friends, and a broad variety of locals, and her eccentric selection was thus a portrayal of, and dialogue with, the city in which she lived. Although she showed sporadically early in her career, from the 1960s onwards her work was exhibited widely in the United States. In 1974, she had her first retrospective at the Whitney Museum of American Art, New York.
Helen Molesworth is a Los Angeles–based writer, podcaster, and curator. Her major museum exhibitions include: Leap Before You Look: Black Mountain College 1933–1957, This Will Have Been: Art, Love, and Politics in the 1980s, and Work Ethic. She has organized monographic exhibitions of Ruth Asawa, Moyra Davey, Noah Davis, Louise Lawler, Steve Locke, Kerry James Marshall, Catherine Opie, and Luc Tuymans. She is the author of numerous catalogue essays and her writing has appeared in Artforum, Art Journal, Documents, and October. The recipient of the 2011 Bard Center for Curatorial Studies Award for Curatorial Excellence, in 2021 she received a Guggenheim Fellowship and in 2022 she was awarded The Clark Art Writing Prize.
Ginny Neel met Alice Neel in 1964 while at Wellesley College. In 1967, she worked with children in New York’s inner city and got to know Alice personally. In 1969, after receiving an MA from Columbia University, she moved to San Francisco. There she met Alice’s son Hartley. They married in 1970. Alice became a lifelong role model for her as a woman. After Alice’s death, she joined the family as one of the directors of the Estate of Alice Neel. Since 2004, she and Hartley have worked closely with the galleries that represent Alice’s work internationally.