American artist Alice Neel (1900-1984) is now regarded as one of the most important painters of the twentieth century and a source of inspiration for contemporary artists, including Marlene Dumas, Rinus Van de Velde and Elizabeth Peyton. While her death has brought a new appreciation on her work, Alice Neel struggled all her life to achieve artistic recognition. This exhibition at the Gemeentemuseum Den Haag will therefore be many people's first encounter with her work.
First ever Dutch exhibition This first ever Dutch exhibition of Alice Neel's impressively intimate works will include around seventy of her works. Neel is above all a portrait painter or - as she herself proclaimed - "a collector of souls". Her subjects included not just members of her own extended family (lovers, spouses, children and neighbours), but also celebrated members of the American art world like Andy Warhol, Robert Smithson and Frank O'Hara. Her paintings capture not only her sitters’ external selves, but also their inner uncertainties, private vanities and psychological states. The portraits are, as it were, 'painted truths': such honest depictions of personalities that the subject's presence is almost tangible.
Turbulent life Alice Neel's expressive portraits tell us something not only about the subjects, but also about the artist herself and the tumultuous life she led. The exhibition begins in 1926, when she and her husband Carlos Enriquez were living in Cuba. After their first daughter died at the age of one, the couple separated and Neel returned to her parents in Philadelphia, leaving their second daughter with Enriquez’s family in Cuba. Neel suffered a nervous breakdown and was admitted to a psychiatric hospital.
In 1932 she moved to New York. Living in ‘bohemian’ Greenwich Village, she became part of a circle of artists and writers who responded to the Great Depression by becoming interested in Communism. When she moved to Spanish Harlem, she began to paint the immigrants from Latin America and Puerto Rico who populated the neighbourhood, as well as continuing to produce portraits of her Communist friends. Spanish Harlem was also where she gave birth to her two sons (by José Negron and Sam Brody respectively), who subsequently became regular subjects of her portraits.
In the early 60s Neel moved to the more prosperous Upper West Side of New York, where her subjects began to include influential curators, art critics and dealers. At the same time, she became interested in the subcultures that were beginning to lay claim to their position in society around this time. Thanks to her friendship with Andy Warhol, she met various gays and transsexuals, including Jackie Curtis (inspiration for Lou Reed’s song Walk on the Wild Side). Neel's portraits of Curtis and of ‘liberated’ women contributed to the public acceptance of such subcultures. In this respect, her oeuvre includes a genre familiar to us from the world of photography – for example, that of Diane Arbus – but unique in painting. By the end of her life, Alice Neel had created a body of portraits that, taken together, represented a cross-section of 20th-century American society.
Recognition Alice Neel was a figurative painter at a time when the art world was dominated first by Abstract Expressionism and later by Minimal Art and Pop Art. Figurative painting was regarded as a thing of the past. Indeed, in the 1960s and '70s painting itself was declared dead. Although she was well aware of contemporary trends, Neel chose to pursue a path diametrically opposed to them. Consequently, her life was a constant struggle for artistic recognition. She did not achieve broader recognition until the 1970s, and then partly due to the women’s liberation movement. In the United States she is now ranked as one of the most important figurative painters of the 20th century, alongside Lucian Freud and Francis Bacon. In Europe, interest in her work has increased sharply in recent years and this exhibition can be seen as the culmination of her posthumous artistic breakthrough on this side of the Atlantic.
Gemeentemuseum The Hague Gemeentemuseum, designed by Dutch architect Hendrik Berlage is a milestone in contemporary architecture. The museum is most especially known for Mondriaan's work. This collection includes his early, realistic pieces as well as the piece de resistance,
Victory Boogie Woogie.
Directions to Gemeentemuseum Gemeentemuseum Den Haag is located in Statenkwartier nearby Scheveningen beach and is easy to reach by public transport, car and bike. From Den Haag Centraal Railway Station and Hollands Spoor, tram 16 will take you to the museum in approximately 20 minutes. From Station CS you can also take bus 24, which runs between Station Mariahoeve and Kijkduin.
Gemeentemuseum can be reached by car via Utrechtsebaan towards Kijkduin. On arrival in the city follow the signs for 'Gemeentemuseum'. There are plenty of opportunities for free parking. If the car park should be full then paid parking is available in the World Forum parking garage at Churchillplein 10, which is about a 5-minute walk from Gemeentemuseum Den Haag.