Facing the Truth: ‘Alice Neel: Late Portraits & Still Lifes,’ at David Zwirner and ‘Jutta Koether: The Fifth Season,’ at Bortolami

Alice Neel paid attention. Of course, she also worked hard and was prodigiously talented, but the main thing is, she paid attention—such close, lucid, existentially present and profoundly generous but completely unsentimental attention to the friends, lovers, relatives and acquaintances whom she painted that her work dissolves theological mysteries more thoroughly than four years in a seminary. You can see, in her portraits, exactly how each of her models felt—not in general but in the very moments in which they were doing it—about sitting still and posing. And you can see in her still lifes the demurely exhibitionist pride that her mind’s eye attributed—and that her hand then highlighted with a subtle fisheye distortion—to a potted plant. How can something have its own complete personality while simultaneously expressing no personality other than its creator’s? And how is it possible for something to be absolutely changeless but distinctly alive?
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