Alice Neel, who died in 1984, is famed for her portraits, which have the pathos of El Greco and the intimacy of George Luks, with the quirk and ambition of Lucian Freud. Looking at her work, you can tell that Neel relished paint, as well as the time she spent in the close company of the people she depicted, drawn from diverse circles of friends, neighbors, and acquaintances. The Zwirner show, organized by critic Hilton Als, presents Neel as an active and engaged resident of Spanish Harlem, a community where, as a white single mother, she was an outlier.
The show presents Neel’s compelling pictures of people she admired, including prominent figures such as activist Mercedes Arroyo and African-American critic Harold Cruse. Two Puerto Rican Boys (1956), which captures children sharing a chair, highlights their brown saucer eyes, delicate fingers, and young faces caught somewhere between worldly and world-weary. Extending beyond paintings and drawings, the show includes vitrines filled with archival materials that round out a picture of Neel’s interests and leanings. —Lindsay Pollock
Pictured: Alice Neel: Two Puerto Rican Boys, 1956, oil on canvas, 32 by 28 inches. Courtesy David Zwirner, New York.