Alice Neel: People Come First

Metropolitan Museum of Art. Mar. 2021. 256p. ed. by Kelly Baum & Randall Griffey. ISBN 9781588397256. $45. FINE ARTS
The art produced by Alice Neel (1900–84) over the course of a 70-year career has seen dips and rises in critical recognition. Appreciation for Neel is currently at an all-time high, coinciding with a retrospective at New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art and this companion catalogue. The volume is edited by Met curators for contemporary art Baum and Griffey, with scholarly essays from contributors, about Neel’s biography and her work as a political radical, a mother, a still life painter, and a portraitist. The 100 color plates of drawings, watercolors, and paintings from 50 collections exemplify the breadth of Neel’s subject matter. While her bold portraits are most familiar to us, we also see here her cityscapes and domestic still lifes—a chicken defrosting in a sink, flowers on a table. Neel unflinchingly depicted difficult subjects like grief, suicide, and aging, in works that demonstrate her radical humanism.
VERDICT Shedding new light and fresh perspectives on Neel’s work, this catalogue brings renewed relevance to the artist’s oeuvre and will be appreciated by scholars and general readers alike.
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