Alice Neel: Uptown

By Hilton Als. Foreword by Jeremy Lewison

Known for her portraits of family, friends, writers, poets, artists, students, singers, salesmen, activists, and more, Alice Neel created forthright, intimate, and, at times, humorous paintings that quietly engaged with political and social issues. 

In Alice Neel, Uptown, writer and curator Hilton Als brings together a body of paintings and works on paper of African-Americans, Latinos, Asians, and other people of color for the first time. Highlighting the innate diversity of Neel’s approach, the selection looks at those whose portraits are often left out of the art-historical canon and how this extraordinary painter captured them; “what fascinated her was the breadth of humanity that she encountered,” Als writes.

The publication, which opens with a foreword by Jeremy Lewison, advisor to The Estate of Alice Neel, explores Neel’s interest in the diversity of uptown New York and the variety of people amongst whom she lived. This group of portraits includes well-known figures such as playwright, actress, and author Alice Childress; the sociologist Horace R. Cayton, Jr.; the community activist Mercedes Arroyo; and the widely published academic Harold Cruse; alongside more anonymous individuals of a nurse, a ballet dancer, a taxi driver, a businessman, and a local kid who ran errands for Neel.

In short and illuminating texts on specific works written in his characteristic narrative style, Als writes about the history of each sitter and offers insights into Neel and her work, while adding his own perspective. A contemporary and personal approach to the artist’s oeuvre, Als’s project is “an attempt to honor not only what Neel saw, but the generosity of her seeing.” 

This catalogue is published on the occasion of the 2017 exhibitions of Neel’s paintings and drawings at David Zwirner, New York, and Victoria Miro, London.


Publisher: David Zwirner Books / Victoria Miro

Artists: Alice Neel

Contributors: Hilton Als, Jeremy Lewison

Designer: Laura Lindgren

Printer: VeronaLibri, Verona, Italy

Publication Date: 2017

Binding: Hardcover

Dimensions: 8 1/2 x 10 1/2 in | 21.6 x 26.7 cm

Pages: 144

Reproductions: 57 color

ISBN: 9781941701607

Retail: $60 | £50

Status: Available

Alice Neel

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.

All Alice Neel books

Hilton Als

Hilton Als is an American writer and curator based in New York. His first book, The Women, a meditation on gender, race, and personal identity, was published in 1996. In 2017, Als was awarded the Pulitzer Prize for Criticism. Als is an associate professor of writing at Columbia University’s School of the Arts and has taught at Yale University and Smith College, among other universities. 

Jeremy Lewison

Jeremy Lewison is an independent curator, writer, and lecturer, and since 2003 has acted as the advisor to The Estate of Alice Neel. He began his career in the art world in 1977 as Curator of Kettle’s Yard, University of Cambridge. In 1983, he joined Tate Gallery, London as an Assistant Keeper in the Modern Collection, rising to the position of Director of Collections in 1998. In addition to having expertise in British art of the interwar period, he became Tate’s specialist in postwar American art, and was responsible for publications and exhibitions on the works of Jackson Pollock, Sol LeWitt, Brice Marden, and Barnett Newman.