Alice Neel Exhibition at the Met Museum

I recently went to view Alice Neel Exhibition at the Met Museum as well as the new art on the roof of the museum.

Alice Neel: People Come First

Here is the Met’s description of the exhibition:

Alice Neel: People Come First is the first museum retrospective in New York of American artist Alice Neel (1900–1984) in twenty years. This ambitious survey positions Neel as one of the century’s most radical painters, a champion of social justice whose longstanding commitment to humanist principles inspired her life as well as her art, as demonstrated in the approximately one hundred paintings, drawings, and watercolors that will appear in The Met’s survey.

Images of activists demonstrating against fascism and racism appear alongside paintings of impoverished victims of the Great Depression, as well as portraits of Neel’s neighbors in Spanish Harlem, leaders from a wide range of political organizations, queer artists and performers, and members of New York’s global diaspora. The exhibition also highlights Neel’s erotic watercolors and pastels from the 1930s, her depictions of mothers, and her paintings of nude figures (some of them visibly pregnant), all of whose candor and irreverence are without precedent in the history of Western art.

Neel was a longtime resident of New York, and the city served as her most faithful subject. Indeed, the sum total of her work testifies to the drama of its streets, the quotidian beauty of its buildings, and, most importantly, the diversity, resilience, and passion of its residents. “For me, people come first,” Neel declared in 1950. “I have tried to assert the dignity and eternal importance of the human being.”

I was primarily draw to Neel’s portrait paintings. Here are several.

As Long As the Sun Lasts

After the Neel show, I went to the rook to see As Long As the Sun Lasts by Alex Da Corte – the Blue Big Bird.

Here is some commentary from the Met Museum’s website

Max Hollein, Marina Kellen French Director of The Met, commented, “Alex Da Corte’s bold work for the Cantor Roof Garden oscillates between joy and melancholy, and brings a playful message of optimism and reflection. The installation, which the artist initiated just as the pandemic was taking hold, invites us to look through a familiar, popular, modern lens at our own condition in a transformed emotional landscape. As the sculpture gently rotates in the wind, it calls us in an assuring way to pause and reflect: We are reminded that stability is an illusion, but ultimately what we see is a statement of belief in the potential of transformation.”

Sheena Wagstaff, Leonard A. Lauder Chairman of Modern and Contemporary Art, added, “By tapping icons of art and popular culture from our collective consciousness, Alex Da Corte has created a new type of monument with this commission. Played out between earth and sky via the benign intercessor of a big, anthropomorphic bird, we are offered the divine possibility of innocence and play as a redemptive power that is spirited, absurd, and deadly serious.”

The work is comprised of a base with three interlocking pieces and a mobile component that sways and rotates gently with passing air currents. With his design, Da Corte evokes the liveliness and unpredictability of Calder’s practice, while also emphasizing a do-it-yourself inventiveness by fashioning the base of the work in the modular language of an outdoor activity set by Little Tikes, which requires no tools for assembly and can be easily reconfigured. Suspended from near the top of the sculpture, covered in roughly 7,000 individually placed laser-cut aluminum feathers, Big Bird is found perched on a crescent moon with a ladder in hand—suggesting the possibility of passage back to Earth or to other galaxies.

Sitting alone, gazing out at the New York skyline, Big Bird has an introspective, melancholic disposition that is amplified by Da Corte’s decision to render the character in blue instead of yellow. This choice of color also gestures to the artist’s personal associations with Big Bird: growing up partially in Venezuela, he watched the Brazilian version of Sesame Street, in which Big Bird’s counterpart, Garibaldo, was blue. The color also alludes to the 1985 film Sesame Street Presents: Follow That Bird, in which the character, while out on a road trip, is captured and painted blue by two carnival operators.

The title for the commission comes from a collection of whimsical short stories by the Italian author Italo Calvino about the potential of new explorations. 

I hope you’ve enjoyed this post about Alice Neel exhibition at the Met. Next, check out this two-parter of my fall 2020 visit to the museum: Part 1 and Part 2.

Also, check out the latest episodes of my Six Minute TRAVEL Fix podcast.

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