Alice Neel, David Bourdon and Gregory Battcock, 1970, oil on canvas,Archer M. Huntington Museum Fund, 1983.
Alice Neel’s painting of two well-known New York art critics is uncomfortably provocative. The unexpected intimacy of the subjects’ poses, their opposing states of dress and undress, and their awkward, unflattering body language are not typical portrait conventions, especially for works that identify their sitters in the title.
Neel was an uncompromising observer of life. Best known for the portraits she painted throughout her long career—of her children, her neighbors, or the artists, critics, musicians, and writers with whom she socialized—she captured each sitter’s state of mind as well as the details of their bearing. Her style was informal but intense; she quickly rendered those features and gestures that captured her subject’s essences, then grounded them in particular settings—beds, chairs, and often the rooms of her own home, since she could rarely afford a separate painting studio.
Committed to the primacy of psychological truth, she looked for charged moments to portray, as in this pre-breakup vignette. Critically recognized only late in her life, Neel is now acknowledged as a master of realism.
“The Robin Gallery…had no physical location so it simply advertised its existence…Stolen Calder mobiles and Oldenburg pastries were said to be on "loan” to the Robin. When Ray Johnson was quarantined in Bellevue with hepatitis, his good friend and lifelong admirer Andy Warhol advertised the occasion as a Robin Gallery event. The Robin’s name was a pun on the former Reuben Gallery, the birthplace of happenings. The Robin put happenings out on the street in a series of irresponsible exploits and escapades. The Robin’s intent was not to bridge the gap between life and art. It simply ignored the demands of either…
The closing of an imaginary gallery is especially sad because its contribution is wholly spiritual, unencumbered by the presence of material art.“