New York Politics

“There isn’t much good portrait painting being done today and I think it is because with all this war, commercialism and fascism, human beings have been steadily marked down in value, despised, rejected and degraded”
Alice Neel: Mike Gold, “Alice Neel Paints Scenes and Portraits from Life in Harlem.”  Daily Worker (New York), December 1950.

Committed to progressive politics her entire life, in the 1930s and 1940s Alice Neel was employed by the Works Progress Administration (WPA), part of President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s New Deal program. Neel believed in art as history; her works serve as a record of the political life and events of New York. A declared Marxist, the artist rejected the ideas on art’s purported purity and autonomy; instead, her works were totally involved in the ever-changing social, economic, and cultural circumstances of the day. In an art scene dominated by Abstract Expressionism, figuration was a political choice for her, and her decision to mainly paint people was somehow a way to once again place humans at the center in a period of great uncertainty and destruction.