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Alice Neel American

Not on view

It was not until Neel was at the height of her critical fame that she produced her first—and, as it turns out, only—self-portrait in which she is the principal subject. Most remarkable about the resulting picture was her decision to represent herself naked. Here Neel brings her blunt, scrutinizing gaze to bear on her own elderly body, a gesture aimed squarely at an ageist, sexist society unused to seeing bodies like hers represented in fine art and popular culture. Neel also emphasizes her professional identity, showing herself holding the tools of her trade and gazing toward the mirror that she would have used to capture her reflected image. Self-Portrait does not only appropriate the long tradition of artist self-portraits, it also responds to contemporaneous developments in feminist art, specifically performance-based work like that by Hannah Wilke, Ana Mendieta, Carolee Schneemann, and Annie Sprinkle (a sitter of Neel’s in 1982), which foregrounds the artists’ nude and semi-nude bodies, addressing overtly the power dynamics of gender and sex.

Self-Portrait, Alice Neel (American, Merion Square, Pennsylvania 1900–1984 New York), Oil on canvas

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Photo by Terje Östling