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Alice Neel: Hot Off the Griddle

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Now, nearly 40 years after her death, Neel has aged like a fine wine, becoming a mainstay in the catalogues of acclaimed portrait artists. From then on, her figurative works reproduced street scenes, or represented the daily poverty of the dilapidated neighbourhoods of Harlem, as well as demonstrations for labour rights or against the rise of fascism in Europe.

The main gallery is a kind of all-together-now vision of a certain time and place: downtown Manhattan in the 1960s and 70s. The exhibition gives focus to Neel’s sitters and their stories, their relevance to her and her political views. There’s a wonderful moment in the show where you head into the airier, larger downstairs galleries from the more compressed upstairs rooms, and you feel a surge of new confidence. Drawing on international public and private collections, Alice Neel: Hot Off The Griddle brings together works spanning her 60-year career.And it ends with another outright masterpiece by an American genius – Joan Mitchell’s Rufus’s Rock, a density of blue and black marks somewhere between mineral and earthly fire. Roosevelt in 1934), a prog ram that employed artists to create works for public buildings and parks during the Great Depression . As this new exhibition opens this week at the Barbican Centre in London (on display until May 21, 2023), her figurative portraits of the dispossessed in Spanish Harlem and of some of her fellow activist friends appear more relevant than ever. Born in Colwyn, Pennsylvania, Alice Neel enrolled at the Philadelphia School of Design for Women in 1921 where she decided she had just what it took to be a good artist: ‘hypersensitivity and the will of the devil.

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alice neel hot off the griddle

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