Artist of the Month: Alice Neel

Artist of the Month (July)

Alice Neel
Picture 16
Detail from Andy Warhol (1970), from the Whitney Museum of American Art and now featured in the show Human Interest: Portraits from the Whitney’s Collection. Copyright belongs to the Artist and the Artist’s Estate 2016.

I recently saw the above portrait of Andy Warhol by Neel at the Whitney and felt overwhelmed and inspired. Alice Neel is renowned for her raw, minimalistic works that express the essence of her subjects’ characters in an intimate and truthful fashion. Like her contemporary (albeit of another medium) Diane Arbus, Neel seems to have gotten otherwise private individuals to open up to her and in the process, confront themselves and their inherent humanity through her depictions of them. At least that’s certainly the case in this particular piece, as best encapsulated or indicated by the accompanying wall text–

Dubbed by an art critic a “collector of souls,” Alice Neel portrayed an extraordinary variety of sitters, from the anonymous to the highly recognizable, as in this portrait of the renowned Pop artist Andy Warhol. Here, Neel captures the vulnerability of an artist whose work and public persona were famous for their cool detachment. When in public, Warhol typically cloaked himself in a variety of guises—wigs, makeup, sunglasses, and a practiced air of disinterestedness. He once remarked, “Nudity is a threat to my existence.” Neel painted the Pop artist provocateur with his eyes closed and shirt removed, exposing his pale, scarred torso and the supportive corset he was forced to wear after being shot in 1968 by Valerie Solanas, a former member of his studio entourage. The canvas is limited to cool hues, such as a swatch of light blue surrounding Warhol’s head and upper body, whose fragile, androgynous contours are outlined in Neel’s signature aquamarine pigment. The background is spare, with only the outline of a couch, thereby emphasizing what she described as the picture’s “hypersensitive economy.” Depicting Warhol as isolated, wounded, and withdrawn, Neel shows us an unexpected, and perhaps more profound, side of her fellow artist.

So many aspects of that description and the work itself resonated with me, specifically the focus on Andy’s physical suffering and the near sense of resignation and acceptance that is visible across his face and being; it is part of what renders her study intensely poignant and memorable.

Another one of Neel’s more famous paintings is this sensational piece, which is prominently featured in the Met Breuer’s oft-referenced UnfinishedI keep promising a review, so hopefully I’ll have a chance to get to that shortly. For now, check this out.

And while I’m at it, below you’ll find Neel’s short bio, courtesy of Artsy.

Alice Neel, one of the great portraitists of the 20th century, made starkly honest paintings of relatives, lovers, friends, and neighbors. A successor to the expressionism of Chaim Soutine, Edward Munch, and Ernst Ludwig Kirchner, Neel used distorted drawing and invented color to reveal the character beneath each sitter’s physical appearance. Neel worked in obscurity for most of her career, painting a range of locals from salesmen to the homeless, but during the last two decades of her life, she finally gained recognition, receiving many honors and awards. Her later paintings include portraits of celebrity artists like Andy Warhol (as we just discussed) and Marisol, as well notable people such as Mayor Ed Koch and Bella Abzug.

For more on Neel, this article is another excellent start, and I would also recommend watching a documentary about her, created posthumously by a relative and which can be found here.

Artist of the Month: Kay Sage

Artist of the Month (June)

Kay Sage


Tomorrow is Never (1955), from the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Copyright Artists Rights Society (ARS) of New York 2016.

Bio of Sage (by Alexis Corral in this Artsy article about obscure female Surrealists) below:

The evocative Surrealism of Kay Sage—which recalls Giorgio de Chirico’s shadowy landscapes and stark buildings, and her husband Yves Tanguy’s spheric forms in desolate spaces—was tremendously influential in the United States in the 1930s. Sage spent her childhood in Europe and New York, and later integrated herself into the Parisian Surrealist boys club, where she met Tanguy in 1939. Once she developed her mature style, featuring strong architectural forms and precise horizon lines, Sage routinely exhibited in New York and Europe throughout the 1940s and ’50s. She tragically began losing her eyesight in the mid-1950s, but went on to write four volumes of poetry and the beginnings of a memoir.

I recently saw Tomorrow is Never in the Lila Acheson Wallace Wing of the Met. The profound and tragic beauty of the work deeply resonated with me and spurred me to discover more about Sage. According to the wall text, she painted this work after a five-month hiatus following the sudden death of her husband and it symbolizes the poignant sense of entrapment and dislocation experienced by Sage prior to her 1963 suicide. Though the piece has a somber, graying tone, it feels transcendental, calm; the stillness is palpable. The painting’s moroseness renders Tomorrow is Never ethereal, transcendental, and utterly memorable. Despite the impending summer season, with light and joy abound, I thought referencing Sage would help anchor my own inner thoughts and appreciation for her art in tangibility.

Artist of the Month: Winslow Homer

Artist of the Month (May)

Winslow Homer


The Cotton Pickers (1876) from the Los Angeles County Museum of Art collection. Copyright LACMA Museum Associates 2011.

Bio of Homer (by Artsy) below:

Winslow Homer is one of the best known painters of American scenes of outdoor life. After an apprenticeship in lithography, Homer began his career as an illustrator for Harper’s, drawing scenes of the Civil War battlefront. After the war, he traveled to Europe and then spent the summer of 1873 in Gloucester, Massachusetts, where he began to work in watercolor—what would eventually became his primary medium. Homer’s outdoor genre scenes painted a varied picture of Americana, from scenes of wilderness guides, to rural African American life in the post-Civil War era, to children at play. In 1881, he spent almost two years on the English coast depicting simple scenes of the local communities. As his career evolved, Homer turned more and more to the sea, and a move to a secluded spot in coastal Maine prompted the eternal struggle between man and nature to become a prominent theme in his work.

Any college art history textbook will tell you that Homer is internationally recognized as an iconic American artist. And the pastoral yet powerful aspects of his work seem to render it perfectly suited for the not yet spring-ish tone of the month. I am a huge fan of The Cotton Pickers, which is featured above. This piece of his can be viewed now on the first floor of the Met Breuer exhibition entitled Unfinished: Thoughts Left Visible, continuing through September 4th. Stay tuned for a review of Unfinished and feel free to comment below with questions and/or ideas.


Artist of the Month: Frederic Brenner

Artist of the Month (April)

Frédéric Brenner


Shlomi and Oren (2012) from one of Brenner’s series, now collected in his book, “An Archeology of Fear and Desire.” Copyright Artsy 2016.

Bio of Brenner (adapted from his Artsy profile) below:

Since 1978, anthropologist and photographer Frédéric Brenner has been exploring Jewish identity, chronicling the people and places of the Jewish Diaspora, and focusing on Israel’s complex topography. For his first project, he traveled to the ultra-orthodox enclave of Mea She’arim to photograph this transplantation of shtetl life to the Middle East. In 1981, he embarked upon his career-defining work, a 25-year journey around the world, documenting the Jewish Diaspora in the late 20th century. Of this project, he states: “I came out of it with a lot more questions than answers. Through it a sense of paradox was born in me.” Further questioning led Brenner to This Place (begun 2007), an ambitious endeavor, for which he brought together a group of world-renowned photographers, including Jeff Wall and Josef Koudelka, to produce a more nuanced portrait of Israel.

Visit the artist’s collaborative show, entitled This Place, at the Brooklyn Museum through June 5th.

Artist of the Month: Isamu Noguchi

Artist of the Month (March)

Isamu Noguchi


Slide Mantra Maquette (ca. 1985) from the current exhibition at the Noguchi Museum. Copyright Kevin Noble for INFGM 2016.

Bio of Noguchi (by Artsy) below:

Isamu Noguchi was one of the 20th century’s most important and critically acclaimed sculptors and designers. Influenced by his mentor, Romanian sculptor Constantin Brancusi, and by the abstract forms of Jean Arp and Japanese Zen gardens, Noguchi gained acclaim in 1946 when his biomorphic interlocking stone sculptures were included in “14 Americans” at the Museum of Modern Art. Integrating Japanese aesthetics with Western modernism, he pursued a lifetime of artistic experimentation that transcended the boundaries of art, design, theater, and architecture. He brought his belief that sculpture should shape space to iconic design objects such as his series of “Akari Light Sculptures,” hanging or freestanding Shoji-paper, bamboo, and wire lamps with a clean, molded aesthetic. His iconic coffee table, a soft-cornered, triangular glass top above curved, asymmetrical wood supports, fueled a successful partnership with the modernist design manufacturer Herman Miller. He also collaborated on set designs with dancers/choreographers Martha Graham, Merce Cunningham, Erick Hawkins, and George Balanchine, and the composer John Cage.

Visit the artist’s incredible museum in Queens, which houses many of his works.

Artist of the Month: Joan Mitchell

The “Artist of the Month” series  is a new feature on MolaPola designed to expand my own knowledge of the art world and to share my findings with others. Posts can be found both on the MolaPola home-page and under the Artists I Love tab. First up, Joan Mitchell.

Artist of the Month (February)

Joan Mitchell


Bracket (1989) from the Doris and Donald Fisher Collection at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art. Copyright Estate of Joan Mitchell 2016.

Perhaps best known for her abstract paintings of trees, American artist Joan Mitchell has a masterful way with color and the brush that has elevated her to a status of prolificacy. When I first saw her work in this exhibition at Cheim & Reid, I was left thoroughly impressed. See this bio of Mitchell (by Artsy) below:

In 1950s New York, Joan Mitchell was a lively, argumentative member of the famed Cedar Bar crowd, alongside Franz Kline, Willem de Kooning, and other notable first- and second-generation Abstract-Expressionist painters. Based on landscape imagery and flowers, her large-scale paintings investigate the potential of big, aggressive brushstrokes and vivid color to convey emotion. “I try to eliminate clichés, extraneous material,” she once said. “I try to make it exact. My painting is not an allegory or a story. It is more like a poem.” Mitchell, who moved to France in 1959, has had numerous museum exhibitions, and examples of her work hang in nearly all the important public collections of modern art.

To find out more about the artist, check out the very informative Joan Mitchell Foundation website here.