Positioning Alice Neel as a champion of civil rights, this book explores how her paintings convey her humanist politics and capture the humanity, strength, and vulnerability of her subjects
“For me, people come first,” Alice Neel (1900–1984) declared in 1950. “I have tried to assert the dignity and eternal importance of the human being.” This ambitious publication surveys Neel’s nearly 70-year career through the lens of her radical humanism. Remarkable portraits of victims of the Great Depression, fellow residents of Spanish Harlem, leaders of political organizations, queer artists, visibly pregnant women, and members of New York’s global diaspora reveal that Neel viewed humanism as both a political and philosophical ideal. In addition to these paintings of famous and unknown sitters, the more than 100 works highlighted include Neel’s emotionally charged cityscapes and still lifes as well as the artist’s erotic pastels and watercolors. Essays tackle Neel’s portrayal of LGBTQ subjects; her unique aesthetic language, which merged abstraction and figuration; and her commitment to progressive politics, civil rights, feminism, and racial diversity. The authors also explore Neel’s highly personal preoccupations with death, illness, and motherhood while reasserting her place in the broader cultural history of the 20th century.
WHY WE LOVE IT
Neel is considered one of the 20th century’s most radical painters, a champion of social justice whose longstanding commitment to humanist principles inspired her life as well as her art.
Neel was a longtime resident of New York, and the city served as her most faithful subject. Indeed, the sum total of her work testifies to the drama of its streets, the quotidian beauty of its buildings, and, most importantly, 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.”