artist / participant
For the first time in Finland, Ateneum is hosting a retrospective of the American artist Alice Neel (1900–1984). Neel was an inimitable force and one of the foremost figurative painters of the 20th century, when art was a largely a male domain.
She is best known for her distinctive style of portraiture, where her models are painted without glorification, in a very straightforward manner. During her long career, Neel worked particularly in New York. The exhibition, arranged and led by Ateneum Art Museum, is only the second major presentation of Neel’s work in Europe.
Alice Neel’s portraits have a unique, startling power. Sometimes it seems as if her model is gazing directly at the viewer and coming unnervingly close. Sometimes the expression is introverted, rejecting the viewer. Neel’s psychologically acute eye and technical virtuosity achieve something essential in the models and their environment. Neel’s nudes are truly exceptional: she observes her model neutrally, without manipulation or erotic undertones.
Alice Neel painted many members of New York’s cultural elite and other celebrities, including pop artist Andy Warhol in 1970 and land artist Robert Smithson in 1962. She frequently painted her family, close friends or random people she had met. The portraits open a window into the artist’s remarkably rich and eventful life.
The cityscapes selected for the exhibition reveal Neel’s sharp perception and unusual interpretation of her environment. Born in Pennsylvania, Alice Neel’s first marriage took her to Cuba in 1926. She later settled down in New York, where she came to know the Greenwich Village of artists and writers, the Latin American and Puerto Rican Spanish Harlem and the Upper West Side like the back of her hand.
Neel had to wait until the mid-1970s for her work to receive wider acknowledgment across the world of art. Critics found her work to be out of touch and her realistic style a throwback to the previous century. Alice Neel’s expressive art has, however, had a strong influence on her contemporaries as well as many of today’s international contemporary artists.
Comprising approximately 70 paintings, the exhibition has been curated by Jeremy Lewison, a leading expert in Alice Neel’s work. After Helsinki, the exhibition produced by Ateneum will tour the Gemeentemuseum den Haag in the Hague, the Fondation Vincent van Gogh Arles and the Deichtorhallen in Hamburg.