Johnson writes that Neel's images of "parks, beaches, political rallies, and even illustrations for the Brothers Karmazov (1938)—that offer some respite from a show otherwise defined by portraits that expose the sitter in some way. Take, for example, her portraits of Kenneth Doolittle, a drug-addicted sailor who was also her lover. In one watercolor rendering, he sits in a rocking chair, smug, with his legs split open. He looks like the actor Sean Penn. In another piece, he sits hunched over, his eyes half open and his body withered. He’s pathetic, and Neel’s pen is unsparing. For me, those portraits were amongst the best in the show because they show people exactly as Neel sees them. And Neel is unusually perceptive—sensitive to both her own feelings and those of others."
Piepenbring writes: "In the thirties, Neel made a series of illustrations for an edition of The Brothers Karamazov that apparently never came to fruition. It’s not clear if the publishers rejected her work or if the whole project fell through, but in either case, damn. The eight illustrations demonstrate how attuned these two sensibilities are: it’s the marriage of one kind of darkness to another. Compare them to, say, William Sharp’s Brothers K illustrations and the difference, the change in register, is immediate—the black storm cloud of Neel’s pen is well suited to Dostoyevsky’s questions of God, reason, and doubt."
Hughes writes that understanding Neel's personal tragedies and challenges made her life "difficult but uniquely nourishing for the kind of art she felt compelled to make. Living for most of her adult life in penury, she painted everyone she encountered on the streets of New York, from prostitutes to brush salesmen, museum curators to transsexuals... Her abiding subject, though, remained her extended family."
Einspruch introduces the conversation by noting: "While there are only eight objects on display in [the show], the spare installation amplifies the presence and power of each of them. Together they form a sacra conversazione of high modernism. A large-scale Ronald Bladen and a small, two-part George Sugarman share a visual sensibility but differ wholly in attitude. Phillip Pearlstein and Al Held meet along two adjacent walls and trade ideas about how to use large shapes to divide the rectangle. Paintings by Alex Katz, Lois Dodd, and Alice Neel discuss their commonalities in figuration, while a faintly figurative Mark di Suvero sculpture holds itself aloof. At the center of this conversation is Irving Sandler, who witnessed the labors of these artists as they set down their individual paths in the late ‘50s and early ‘60s. With figures such as de Kooning and Pollock having established themselves as giants, there was enormous interest in – and heated arguments about – what younger artists were to do in their wake."
Deborah Anne Krieger reviews Notations/Revolutions of the Real: Painting the Figure, 1960s to Now at the Philadelphia Museum of Art (Gallery 176). The installation features works by Sidney Goodman, James Rosenquist, Alex Katz, Chuck Close, Philip Pearlstein, Michelangelo Pistoletto, Alice Neel, Elizabeth Peyton, and Noel Mahaffey.
Kreiger writes: "While at first glance this show seems to be a simple set of paintings exploring different approaches to the expression of the human form from the 1960s to the present, the way this exhibit has been curated creates endless curiosities and surprises. Nearly every work is juxtaposed with its neighbor in intelligent and challenging ways, revealing something about each work. What is implied by one painting is often revealed or challenged by its neighbor...This exhibit succeeds on the strategy and strength of its organization, and because it considers the unforeseen relationship between works. Each artist has chosen to paint the figure in a different way—seated, in motion, realistically, abstracted."
Schor writes: "I figure that since the show is divided into two parts, installed along two separate sections of the space, with one side featuring the works of women artists who are deceased, and the other side featuring those of us still among the living, I feel that I can safely recommend the dead without incurring controversy among the other living artists in the show or referring to my own work in it or the ramifications of the word 'lady, ' which I know has stirred some controversy. Curator Jason Andrew of Norte Maar has assembled some terrific work in this show, a diverse group of works by notable artists and artists that some may be less familiar with, and in each case has included a very good example of the artist’s work, and in some cases quite a surprising one. Again, I am just talking about the dead. The works are grouped in open bays or booths, creating in effect small mini-exhibitions with some interesting synergies."
Panero writes: "It’s too bad that the language of music cannot apply to visual art. We all know there’s a difference between a tenor and a soprano, yet we value them equally. In fact, opera is rather dull without both. The same holds true for the voices of painters or sculptors. With its concentration of abstract artists, 'To be a Lady' suggests, in particular, why women’s voices have been essential to the evolution of modernism. Even without pivotal figures on display like Helen Frankenthaler, the lady who made the men look like boys, 'To be a Lady' suggests how women have advanced an abstract language that is thankfully free of distracting male quavers. Without macho bluster, the works here can settle into contemplative, often symmetrical compositions."
Thomas Micchelli writes about the exhibition To be a Lady: Forty-Five Women in the Arts curated by Jason Andrew, organized by Norte Maar, on view at 1285 Avenue of the Americas Art Gallery, New York through January 18, 2013.
To be a Lady, Micchelli notes, is a show of "startling scale, ambition and quality: a museum-caliber exhibition unenclosed by museum walls." He continues: "One of the ironies of To Be a Lady (implicit in its title, which Andrew asserts is meant as a provocation) is that the pieces derived from traditional notions of domesticity — 'women’s work' in the not-gender-neutral term — are often the most aggressive... Aggressiveness is on full display in conventional media as well, with tough and jagged paintings by Pat Passlof, Elizabeth Condon, Grace Hartigan, Mira Schor, Brooke Moyse and, with a marked acidity, Elizabeth Murray."
Olive writes that "the interior lives of [Neel's] subjects peer out at us from within their surfaces. Neel's uncanny ability to capture her subjects psychological states in the moments they sat in front of her reads intensely in person. The personalities reveal themselves through Neel's fluid handling of paint; stories unfolding, lives and past moments cascading into the present. I immediately wanted to know more about the lives of the people she was surrounded by."
Bregman writes that Neel's "depictions are at once traditionally representational and non-traditionally provocative, with the images of her neighbors, friends, family, and other New Yorkers portrayed in a way that questions the confines of socioeconomics and heteronormativity. By depicting her own unconventional life, the portraits of her friends and family took on a greater societal significance that continues to resonate on view today."
Edited by artist Brett Baker, Painters' Table highlights writing from the painting blogosphere as it is published and serves as a platform for exploring blogs that focus primarily on the subject of painting.