The bold portrait painter Alice Neel was decades ahead of her time

Alice Neel (1900–1984) was one of the most significant American painters of the 20th century. Her psychologically charged portraits tell intimate and unconventional stories, as much about people living on the margins of society and in subcultures as about the New York cultural elite and her own family. Alice Neel led an exceptionally interesting life as a single parent and a feminist in a time when the world of art was largely male-dominated. The exhibition produced by the Ateneum is only the second major presentation of Neel’s work in Europe.

Including approximately 70 paintings, the retrospective exhibition has been curated by Jeremy Lewison, a leading expert in Neel’s work, and an adviser to the Estate of Alice Neel. Lewison has previously worked as Director of Collections at the Tate in London. One of the best known exhibitions curated by Lewison was Turner, Monet, Twombly, held at Moderna Museet in Stockholm from 2011 to 2012.

“The Ateneum makes a significant statement when presenting an exhibition by an artist who lived and worked on the margins both of the art world and society but remains as relevant as ever. Alice Neel’s art and life fascinate me endlessly: I am delighted by the growing interest in Neel’s art in recent years. What is unique about Neel is her focus on humanity, her ability to capture the personalities of her subjects, and her work in exploring the social and political changes taking place in American society,” says Jeremy Lewison.

Minorities, nudes, Andy Warhol’s superstars, and ordinary New Yorkers

The exhibition is arranged chronologically, beginning with works from 1926 and ending in 1984, the year of the artist’s death. Alice Neel led an eventful life which figures in some of her paintings: she had a number of different partners, suffered the early death of her first child and a lifelong separation from her second, and was a single parent to two sons. In the only self-portrait that Neel painted, she depicts herself naked at the age of 80, somewhat ravaged by time.

“Neel was in the vanguard in her early works in the 1930s. Her candid naked portrayals of men and women are unlike the work of any of her contemporaries – not even male painters had her boldness. In her later years, one of my favourite Neel works is Jackie Curtis and Ritta Redd (1970), which portrays Curtis, one of Andy Warhol’s superstars. Curtis is mentioned in Lou Reed’s famous song, Walk on the Wild Side,” says Lewison.

A richly illustrated catalogue, will accompany the exhibition with articles by a range of international writers, exploring Alice Neel’s career from a variety of angles. Edited by Jeremy Lewison and Anu Utriainen, this is the first book on Neel in Finnish. The book is also available in English.

Several museums and private collectors have loaned works to the exhibition, including the Museum of Modern Art, the Whitney Museum of American Art, and the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York; the Tate in London; and Moderna Museet in Stockholm. After being staged in Helsinki, the exhibition, produced by the Ateneum, will be shown at the Gemeentemuseum den Haag in The Hague, the Fondation Vincent van Gogh in Arles, and the Deichtorhallen in Hamburg.

Events related to the exhibition

There will be various events held in conjunction with the exhibition, especially during Helsinki Pride, an LGBT theme week, to be held from 27 June to 3 July.

Sat. 11 Jun. at 1 pm, Wed. 31 Aug. at 6 pm, and Wed. 21 Sept. at 6 pm: Film screening Alice Neel, Ateneum Hall
Directed by Andrew Neel, 2007. Duration 82 min, Arthouse Films. This award-winning film contains plenty of archival material, and interviews with Neel’s friends and family, models, and influential figures in the world of art. The director, Andrew Neel, is Alice Neel’s grandson. In English, no subtitles.

 Wed. 29 Jun. 2016 at 5 pm: Queer guided tour of the Alice Neel exhibition

Wed. 29 Jun. 2016 at 6 pm: Discussion – The plurality of gender in art, Ateneum Hall
Alice Neel also portrayed members of the LGBT community in her paintings. Does the diversity of gender show in Finnish contemporary art, and if so, how? What kinds of norms, assumptions or taboos are embedded in the representations of gender in different forms of art? Organised in cooperation with Transforces, Seta/Trans Support Centre, HeSeta, and Helsinki Pride.

Thurs. 30 Jun. at 6 pm: Alice Neel through queer eyes – a guided tour in English

Sat. 24 Sept. from 10 am to 4 pm: Alice Neel and Portraits in Art conference
This conference focuses specifically on paintings by Alice Neel, a masterful portrayer of people, while also discussing portraits and self-portraits in art in general. Conference speakers include the Neel expert Jeremy Lewison, and Doctor of Philosophy Marja Lahelma.

Opening hours
Tue & Fri 10am–6pm | Wed & Thu 10am–8pm | Sat & Sun 10am–5pm | Mon closed

9 May –27 October 2016:
Adults €13 | with S-Etukortti card €12 | Concessions €11 | Under 18s free admission