Alice Neel: Painter of Modern Life publication reviewed in The New York Review of Books

The Soul of Alice Neel

By Claire Messud

 

More than thirty years after her death, the oeuvre of American painter Alice Neel attracts ever greater interest, and seems only ever more relevant: the substantial and moving exhibition of her paintings currently at the Gemeentemuseum in The Hague is the latest indication of this groundswell of attention, including various shows and catalogues in addition to a fine biography by Phoebe Hoban and a biographical film directed by Neel’s grandson, Andrew Neel. The current exhibition (which recently closed at Helsinki’s Finnish National Gallery and will travel next to Arles, France and from there to Hamburg, Germany) has occasioned the beautiful volume Alice Neel: Painter of Modern Life.

 

Neel’s portraits are rarely serene but always memorable. Her early paintings range from the unsettling to the disturbing. In her nude painting of her estranged daughter Isabetta (1934, repainted 1935), the prepubescent girl stands arms akimbo with one foot forward, her gaze frank but also unseeing, her child’s body frank also, but flattened and greenish, her feet peculiarly large. In the Degenerate Madonna (1930), a mother notable chiefly for the ghostly black nimbus of her hair, a mouth like a gash, and fierce elongated nipples like bloody daggers, overlooks a ghastly-grey bald infant with a skull of hydrocephalic proportions, tiny crooked features and stiff white legs like a doll’s; while the faint profile of a second bald-headed child—or the infant’s reflection—looms bodiless in the background.

 

Neel’s later paintings largely eschew such melodrama, but they are always uneasy, inviting the viewer into a direct and often alarming intimacy with their subjects. Awkwardness abounds, and with it sometimes dark comedy, as in Victoria and the Cat (1980), a portrait of one of Neel’s grandchildren, naked and bashful, with rounded shoulders and knock-knees, clutching to her breast an enormous grinning calico cat, its tail as luxuriant as a show horse’s. Neel’s famous naked self-portrait (1980) depicts the artist in old age, perched on a blue and white striped sofa surrounded by blocks of vital color—green, yellow, blue—calm and fearless in herself, staring at the viewer through slightly skewed glasses (her only attire), mouth firmly downturned and cheeks ruddy above the deliquescence of her aged body, a sinking galleon of pale flesh. In one powerfully knuckled greenish hand, she holds a paintbrush; in the other, drooping and veinless, a white cloth. Her right foot, bluish, splays unnaturally. But as so often with Neel’s paintings, it’s the face you are drawn back to, in this case the gaze wary but defiant, as if she looks death itself in the eye.

 

Read more

The New York Review of Books Posted 6 October 2016

Victoria Miro

16 Wharf Road
London N1 7RW
t: 44 (0)20 7336 8109

info@victoria-miro.com

View map

Victoria Miro Mayfair

14 St George Street

London W1S 1FE

t: 44 (0)20 3205 8910

info@victoria-miro.com
View map

Victoria Miro Venice

Il Capricorno, San Marco 1994,

Calle Drio La Chiesa

30124 Venice, Italy

t: +39 041 523 3799 

info@victoria-miro.com
View map

 

 

Victoria Miro New York – Office

534 West 24th Street
New York, NY 10011, USA
t: +1 (212) 229 2400
info@victoria-miro.com

Opening Times

London: Tuesday–Saturday: 10am–6pm 

 

Venice: Tuesday–Saturday: 10am–1pm & 2–6pm

 

We are also closed on Sundays, Mondays and public holidays. 


Admission free. Large groups should please contact the gallery in advance to book a visit.

 

Enquiries

All general enquiries should be sent to  
info@victoria-miro.com


Victoria Miro does not accept unsolicited artist applications.

 

Before contacting or subscribing please read our Privacy Policy

 

We respect the choices you make about how you would like to hear from us. You will find links at the bottom of all emails we send from our mailing list which allow you to Update your preferences to change the way we contact you, or Unsubscribe if you want to opt out.

Subscribe

Staff contact details

Directors

Victoria Miro
W.P. Miro
Glenn Scott Wright
Divya Pande
Executive Assistant to Directors
Direct line: +44 (0) 207 324 0903

Sales

Matt Carey-Williams
Senior Director of Sales
Direct line: +44 (0) 203 962 4345
Director of Sales and Performance
Direct line: +44 (0)20 7336 8109
Director, Mayfair
Direct line: +44 (0)20 7549 0494
Elke Seebauer
Director, Venice
Direct line: +39 041 523 3799
Clare Coombes
Director of Sales - Museum Acquisitions
Direct line: +44 (0)20 7324 0919
Anna Fisher
Director of Sales - Americas
Direct line: +1 212 229 2400
Oliver Miro
Director of Sales
Direct line: +44 (0)20 7549 0496
Alessandra Modiano
Director of Sales
Direct line: +44 (0) 203 962 4346
Mary Eleanor McNicholas
Art Fair Co-ordinator
Direct line: +44 (0)20 7549 0498
Louis Blanc-Francard
Sales Executive & Assistant to Matt Carey-Williams
Direct line: +44 (0)20 3205 8910
Fern Warriner
Mayfair Coordinator & Sales Administrator
Direct line: +44 (0) 203 205 8910
Aileen Dowling
Sales Team Coordinator & Sales Administrator
Direct line: +44 (0) 203 962 4344
Eilidh Watson
Front of House and Sales Assistant
Direct line: +44 (0) 207 336 8109

Exhibitions

Erin Manns
Director of Exhibitions - Head of Department
Direct line: +44 (0)20 7549 0423
Rachel Taylor
Director of Exhibitions
Direct line: +44 (0)20 7549 0431
Director of Exhibitions
Direct line: +44 (0)20 7324 0918
Mary Taylor
Production Manager
Direct line: +44 (0)20 7549 0424
Special Projects and Production
Direct line: +44 (0)20 7549 0426
Isabelle Young
Exhibitions Assistant
Direct line: +44 (0)20 7336 8109
Exhibitions Assistant
Direct line: +44 (0)20 7324 0901

Communications

Kathy Stephenson
Director of Communications
Direct line: +44 (0)20 7549 0422
Martin Coomer
Head of Editorial and Digital Content
Direct line: +44 (0)20 7324 0915
Marisa J. Futernick
Digital and Social Media Consultant
Direct line: +1 (860) 549-2576
Hannah van den Wijngaard
Photography, Rights and Reproduction Manager
Direct line: +44 (0)20 7549 0428
Press and Marketing Co-ordinator
Direct line: +44 (0)20 7324 0912
Communications Assistant
Direct line: +44 (0)20 7549 0499

Operations

Robert Holzberger
Director of Operations
Direct line: +44 (0)20 7549 0495
Emer Bermingham
Operations Manager
Direct line: +44 (0) 203 962 4349
Adeline Guy
Head Registrar
Direct line: + 44 (0)20 7324 0916
Jayne Archard
Registrar
Direct line: +44 (0)207 324 0910
Alice Panton
Registrar
Direct line: +44 (0)20 7324 0904
Clare Rowe
Paper Archive and Records Manager
Direct line: +44 (0)20 7549 0493
Elina Pelvanidi
Registrar Assistant
Direct line: +44 (0) 203 962 4348
Katrina Millar
Front of House and Events Co-ordinator
Direct line: +44 (0)20 7336 8109
Philip Ewe
Library Coordinator and Archive Assistant
Direct line: +44 (0)20 7336 8109

Technical Services

David Wood
Technical Operations and Buildings Manager
Direct line: +44 (0)20 7324 0900
Jon Glazier
Head Technician
Direct line: +44 (0)20 7549 0425
Jonny Winter
Senior Technician
Direct line: +44 (0) 203 9624 341
Gemma Geraghty
Senior Technician
Direct line: +44 (0) 203 9624 340
Rob Phillips
Senior Technician
Direct line: +44 (0)20 7549 0492
Ross Taylor
Technician
Direct line: +44 (0)20 7549 0492

Finance

Direct line: +44 (0)20 7336 8109