Monday, May 16, 2016

The Other 90%: Alice Neel

We’re spotlighting some of the artists included in The Other 90%: Works from the GW Permanent Collection, on view now through June 3, 2016 at the Luther W. Brady Art Gallery.


Life & Career


Alice Neel (1900-1984) was one of the most prolific American portrait painters of the twentieth century. Although abstraction was popular during the 1940s and 50s, she continued to paint in a style that depicted real people from celebrities of the art world like Andy Warhol to impoverish Neighbors in Spanish Harlem. Her gift was being able to reveal something of her sitters’ inner selves through depictions of their outer appearance.[1]

Neel was born in Merion Square, Pennsylvania and began her art education at the Philadelphia School of Design for Women (now known as Moore College of Art and Design), enrolled from 1921-25 Her early life was turbulent and her marriage to the artist Carlos Enriquez took her from Pennsylvania to Cuba to New York. With the death of a child and a disintegrating marriage, she suffered from anxiety and depression, which led to several suicide attempts. By 1932 she had returned to painting and to New York, where she participated in the First Washington Square Outdoor Art Exhibit that year. Like many artists living in New York during the 1930s, Neel joined the Public Works of Art Project (which would later become the Works Progress Administration, WPA), a government-funded program run under the Whitney Museum of American Art; she worked with the program on and off again until its termination in 1943.[2]

While she was included in a number group shows and small exhibitions during the 1940s and 50s, Neel only began to see increased recognition in the 1960s. By 1974 the Whitney Museum of American Art was holding a retrospective of her work, which many considered to be ‘too little, too late’ although she considered it a triumph. In 1984, the year of her death, she appeared twice on “The Tonight Show” with Johnny Carson, offering to paint his portrait.[3]


Activism


Neel was an activist throughout her life. She was investigated in 1955 by the FBI who had been looking into her activities with the Communist Party since 1951. Their file described her as a “romantic Bohemian type communist.” [4] In 1959, she appeared in the Beat film Pull My Daisy with Jack Kerouac, Allen Ginsberg and Peter Orlovsky, among others. In 1968 she participated in a protest of the Whitney Museum of American Art over the exhibition 1930s Painting and Sculpture in America, because of its lack of women and African American artists, and again over the exhibition, Contemporary Black Artists in America, which was accused of being hastily organized by its curator, Robert Doty. 

She participated in a demonstration against the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s exhibition, Harlem on My Mind, in 1969; she, Raphael Soyer, John Dobbs, and Mel Roman were the only white artists to attend the demonstration, organized by the Black Emergency Cultural Coalition. She also stood with the Black Emergency Cultural Coalition and Artists and Writers Protest Against the War in Vietnam opposing Governor Nelson rockefeller's handling of the Attica prison riot in 1971. Her portrait of Kate Millet appeared on the cover of Time magazine in 1970 in an issue dedicated to the “Politics of Sex.” Between 1973 and 1975 she participated in at least eight exhibitions exclusively devoted to the work of women artists.


Connections


As a major figure in the art world during the last decades of her life, she had connections to a number of other artists exhibited in The Other 90 Percent. In 1970 she painted a portrait of Andy Warhol, and Warhol attended and photographed a dinner held in honor of Neel by NYC Mayor Ed Koch at Gracie Mansion in 1982. [5] She protested with Raphael Soyer, and also painted a portrait of the artist and his twin brother, the artist Moses Soyer, in 1973. In 1972 she participated in the “Conference of Women in the Visual Arts,” held at the Corcoran School of Art, in Washington, D.C., taking the opportunity to present slides of her work.

Alice Neel, Family, 1982, lithograph, ed. 68/175, 
31-1/4 x 27 inches. The George Washington 
University Permanent Collection. Gift of James 
M. Kearns, 1993. 



Artistic Style


Although, she had numerous illustrations printed in the magazine Masses and Mainstream during the forties and fifties, Neel did not begin making prints, like the one shown here, until later in her career. She worked with Judith Solodkin at Rutgers University in 1977 to produce Nancy, a lithograph, and an etching, Young Man. [6] The lithograph in the GW Permanent Collection, Family (1982), is representative of her style of portraiture: strong outlines, bold brushstrokes, and tilted perspectives create a flatness against the picture plane and often suggests the uneasiness and personal struggles of many of her sitters.






[1] National Museum of Women in the Arts, “Alice Neel, 1900-1984,” <http://nmwa.org/explore/artist-profiles/alice-neel> Accessed 14 March, 2016.
[2] Sarah Powers, “Chronology,” in Alice Neel, exhibition catalog, June 29, 2000–December 30, 2001, Philadelphia Museum of Art and four other institutions, 159-176.
[3] Powers, 176.
[4] Powers, 169.
[5] Powers, 175.
[6] Powers, 174.

Wednesday, May 11, 2016

Makonde Tree of Life: Updates #1 and #2


Update #1: Who are the Makonde?

The Makonde people live in East Africa, in southern Tanzania and northern Mozambique. Although both produce art objects, the Makonde of Mozambique and the Makonde of Tanzania are culturally different, due to the division of their lands by the Rovuma River and the wood carving known as “Makonde” is produced by the Tanzanian Makonde. Able to resist colonization until the early 20th century, the Makonde’s traditional religion is based on ancestor worship and their art also centers around celebration and remembrance of ancestors. The “Tree of Life” type of carvings are highly collectible and depict men, women, children, and in our case birds, one on top of the other and connected. These types of carvings developed in the 1950s as well as the carving of shetani, or spirits in abstracted form. 


Fima Lifshitz, An African Journey Through Its Art (AuthorHouse: Bloomington, IN 2009) 126-128.


Update #2: Mystery Solved?

One day, quite by accident, a breakthrough came in the mystery of the Makonde Tree of Life’s origins. While touring the MPA building for a completely different reason Tony Beasley, a GW Facilities worker, saw the Tree of Life sitting in our study room and exclaimed “That used to be in my office!” It had been there when he got the office and he liked it so much he decided to keep it. He couldn’t remember the name of who had the office before him, “Paul something?” but told us to ask Susan Hyde, an Administrative Assistant at the Virginia Campus. 

A call back from Hyde revealed that the office used to belong to Dr. John S. Wilson, Jr., the Dean of the Virginia Campus. Now President of Morehouse College, via the White House Initiative on Historic Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs), Wilson was at GW from 2001-2009 as the Executive Dean of the Virginia Campus and associate professor in higher education in the Graduate School of Education. Along with links to Dr. Wilson’s bio from Morehouse, Hyde sent the message “I hope you can get in contact with Mr. Wilson and solve this mystery!” 

We hope so too! I guess we’re calling Atlanta.

Tuesday, May 10, 2016

Makonde Tree of Life: What is This?

The work pictured below arrived at the Luther W. Brady Art Gallery when the office where it had been for years was renovated.  It's arrival coincided with a planned cases exhibition of work from our traditional African art collection featuring recent gifts and a number of works that had not been on view in several years.  The addition of the Makonde work provided a way to talk about a "Found in Collection" work of art, another facet of museum collections work. 

An almost life-sized image of this work and any new information we discover on the piece will be on view as part of Building Knowledge: Traditional African Art in the GW Permanent Collection through June 2016 in the 21st Street side cases on the first floor of the MPA Building.


What is this?

The mystery of “What is this?” is unusual but not unknown in the museum field. Objects and artifacts sometimes lose identifying information as they make their way from origin, through a life-span of use, and into a museum collection, over the course of decades or centuries. We are fortunate that many works of Western art bear signatures, dates, and even places of origin. But other times there is nothing beyond what we can see with our eyes. 

Luckily, through diligent research, we can connect the dots and re-write the story behind a work. There isn’t much we know about the piece itself, besides the information it came with, but we’ll be investigating all leads and will bring you updates every other week here and in the first floor cases in MPA as we find out more. 

Join us as we attempt to answer the question “What is this?”
. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

What DO we know?

  • This is a Makonde “Tree of Life.” 
  • The Makonde people are traditionally located in an area that stretches across the border between Mozambique and Tanzania. 
  • It came from an office on the Ashburn Campus, left behind when someone moved
What would we like to know?

  • What is a “Tree of Life?”
  • Who are all of these figures and what is the meaning of the work?
  • Who owned this?
  • How did it get from Africa to Ashburn?
  • Can we trace this back to a specific person?

About the Blog

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Covering exhibits at the Luther W. Brady Art Gallery and giving you a peek into the Permanent Collection of the George Washington University.

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Howard Hodgkin: Paintings - May 16, 2012

Monday, May 16, 2016

The Other 90%: Alice Neel

We’re spotlighting some of the artists included in The Other 90%: Works from the GW Permanent Collection, on view now through June 3, 2016 at the Luther W. Brady Art Gallery.


Life & Career


Alice Neel (1900-1984) was one of the most prolific American portrait painters of the twentieth century. Although abstraction was popular during the 1940s and 50s, she continued to paint in a style that depicted real people from celebrities of the art world like Andy Warhol to impoverish Neighbors in Spanish Harlem. Her gift was being able to reveal something of her sitters’ inner selves through depictions of their outer appearance.[1]

Neel was born in Merion Square, Pennsylvania and began her art education at the Philadelphia School of Design for Women (now known as Moore College of Art and Design), enrolled from 1921-25 Her early life was turbulent and her marriage to the artist Carlos Enriquez took her from Pennsylvania to Cuba to New York. With the death of a child and a disintegrating marriage, she suffered from anxiety and depression, which led to several suicide attempts. By 1932 she had returned to painting and to New York, where she participated in the First Washington Square Outdoor Art Exhibit that year. Like many artists living in New York during the 1930s, Neel joined the Public Works of Art Project (which would later become the Works Progress Administration, WPA), a government-funded program run under the Whitney Museum of American Art; she worked with the program on and off again until its termination in 1943.[2]

While she was included in a number group shows and small exhibitions during the 1940s and 50s, Neel only began to see increased recognition in the 1960s. By 1974 the Whitney Museum of American Art was holding a retrospective of her work, which many considered to be ‘too little, too late’ although she considered it a triumph. In 1984, the year of her death, she appeared twice on “The Tonight Show” with Johnny Carson, offering to paint his portrait.[3]


Activism


Neel was an activist throughout her life. She was investigated in 1955 by the FBI who had been looking into her activities with the Communist Party since 1951. Their file described her as a “romantic Bohemian type communist.” [4] In 1959, she appeared in the Beat film Pull My Daisy with Jack Kerouac, Allen Ginsberg and Peter Orlovsky, among others. In 1968 she participated in a protest of the Whitney Museum of American Art over the exhibition 1930s Painting and Sculpture in America, because of its lack of women and African American artists, and again over the exhibition, Contemporary Black Artists in America, which was accused of being hastily organized by its curator, Robert Doty. 

She participated in a demonstration against the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s exhibition, Harlem on My Mind, in 1969; she, Raphael Soyer, John Dobbs, and Mel Roman were the only white artists to attend the demonstration, organized by the Black Emergency Cultural Coalition. She also stood with the Black Emergency Cultural Coalition and Artists and Writers Protest Against the War in Vietnam opposing Governor Nelson rockefeller's handling of the Attica prison riot in 1971. Her portrait of Kate Millet appeared on the cover of Time magazine in 1970 in an issue dedicated to the “Politics of Sex.” Between 1973 and 1975 she participated in at least eight exhibitions exclusively devoted to the work of women artists.


Connections


As a major figure in the art world during the last decades of her life, she had connections to a number of other artists exhibited in The Other 90 Percent. In 1970 she painted a portrait of Andy Warhol, and Warhol attended and photographed a dinner held in honor of Neel by NYC Mayor Ed Koch at Gracie Mansion in 1982. [5] She protested with Raphael Soyer, and also painted a portrait of the artist and his twin brother, the artist Moses Soyer, in 1973. In 1972 she participated in the “Conference of Women in the Visual Arts,” held at the Corcoran School of Art, in Washington, D.C., taking the opportunity to present slides of her work.

Alice Neel, Family, 1982, lithograph, ed. 68/175, 
31-1/4 x 27 inches. The George Washington 
University Permanent Collection. Gift of James 
M. Kearns, 1993. 



Artistic Style


Although, she had numerous illustrations printed in the magazine Masses and Mainstream during the forties and fifties, Neel did not begin making prints, like the one shown here, until later in her career. She worked with Judith Solodkin at Rutgers University in 1977 to produce Nancy, a lithograph, and an etching, Young Man. [6] The lithograph in the GW Permanent Collection, Family (1982), is representative of her style of portraiture: strong outlines, bold brushstrokes, and tilted perspectives create a flatness against the picture plane and often suggests the uneasiness and personal struggles of many of her sitters.






[1] National Museum of Women in the Arts, “Alice Neel, 1900-1984,” <http://nmwa.org/explore/artist-profiles/alice-neel> Accessed 14 March, 2016.
[2] Sarah Powers, “Chronology,” in Alice Neel, exhibition catalog, June 29, 2000–December 30, 2001, Philadelphia Museum of Art and four other institutions, 159-176.
[3] Powers, 176.
[4] Powers, 169.
[5] Powers, 175.
[6] Powers, 174.

Wednesday, May 11, 2016

Makonde Tree of Life: Updates #1 and #2


Update #1: Who are the Makonde?

The Makonde people live in East Africa, in southern Tanzania and northern Mozambique. Although both produce art objects, the Makonde of Mozambique and the Makonde of Tanzania are culturally different, due to the division of their lands by the Rovuma River and the wood carving known as “Makonde” is produced by the Tanzanian Makonde. Able to resist colonization until the early 20th century, the Makonde’s traditional religion is based on ancestor worship and their art also centers around celebration and remembrance of ancestors. The “Tree of Life” type of carvings are highly collectible and depict men, women, children, and in our case birds, one on top of the other and connected. These types of carvings developed in the 1950s as well as the carving of shetani, or spirits in abstracted form. 


Fima Lifshitz, An African Journey Through Its Art (AuthorHouse: Bloomington, IN 2009) 126-128.


Update #2: Mystery Solved?

One day, quite by accident, a breakthrough came in the mystery of the Makonde Tree of Life’s origins. While touring the MPA building for a completely different reason Tony Beasley, a GW Facilities worker, saw the Tree of Life sitting in our study room and exclaimed “That used to be in my office!” It had been there when he got the office and he liked it so much he decided to keep it. He couldn’t remember the name of who had the office before him, “Paul something?” but told us to ask Susan Hyde, an Administrative Assistant at the Virginia Campus. 

A call back from Hyde revealed that the office used to belong to Dr. John S. Wilson, Jr., the Dean of the Virginia Campus. Now President of Morehouse College, via the White House Initiative on Historic Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs), Wilson was at GW from 2001-2009 as the Executive Dean of the Virginia Campus and associate professor in higher education in the Graduate School of Education. Along with links to Dr. Wilson’s bio from Morehouse, Hyde sent the message “I hope you can get in contact with Mr. Wilson and solve this mystery!” 

We hope so too! I guess we’re calling Atlanta.

Tuesday, May 10, 2016

Makonde Tree of Life: What is This?

The work pictured below arrived at the Luther W. Brady Art Gallery when the office where it had been for years was renovated.  It's arrival coincided with a planned cases exhibition of work from our traditional African art collection featuring recent gifts and a number of works that had not been on view in several years.  The addition of the Makonde work provided a way to talk about a "Found in Collection" work of art, another facet of museum collections work. 

An almost life-sized image of this work and any new information we discover on the piece will be on view as part of Building Knowledge: Traditional African Art in the GW Permanent Collection through June 2016 in the 21st Street side cases on the first floor of the MPA Building.


What is this?

The mystery of “What is this?” is unusual but not unknown in the museum field. Objects and artifacts sometimes lose identifying information as they make their way from origin, through a life-span of use, and into a museum collection, over the course of decades or centuries. We are fortunate that many works of Western art bear signatures, dates, and even places of origin. But other times there is nothing beyond what we can see with our eyes. 

Luckily, through diligent research, we can connect the dots and re-write the story behind a work. There isn’t much we know about the piece itself, besides the information it came with, but we’ll be investigating all leads and will bring you updates every other week here and in the first floor cases in MPA as we find out more. 

Join us as we attempt to answer the question “What is this?”
. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

What DO we know?

  • This is a Makonde “Tree of Life.” 
  • The Makonde people are traditionally located in an area that stretches across the border between Mozambique and Tanzania. 
  • It came from an office on the Ashburn Campus, left behind when someone moved
What would we like to know?

  • What is a “Tree of Life?”
  • Who are all of these figures and what is the meaning of the work?
  • Who owned this?
  • How did it get from Africa to Ashburn?
  • Can we trace this back to a specific person?

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Washington, District of Columbia, United States
"Found In Collection" or simply "FIC" is the way many museums classify the more mysterious items in their possession that have little or no documentation. Here at the Luther W. Brady Art Gallery of the George Washington University, we do keep extensive records of our collection, but some of the items we come across in academic buildings or our own storage can leave us wondering. This blog is an effort to showcase some of the more curious examples and their stories, and to provide a glimpse of the great variety of art pieces within the collection. To learn more about the Brady Gallery's history, recent exhibitions, or the George Washington University, take a look at the links below.

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