Press Release

Alice Neel: People Come First

  • Dates: September 17, 2021–February 6, 2022
  • Curated by Kelly Baum, Cynthia Hazen Polsky and Leon Polsky Curator of Contemporary Art, and Randall Griffey, Curator of Modern and Contemporary Art, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, with Lucía Agirre, Curator, Guggenheim Museum Bilbao.
  • Exhibition organized by the Metropolitan Museum of Art in conjunction with the Guggenheim Museum Bilbao and The Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco
  • Sponsored by Iberdrola


  • Neel used her works to document scenes of loss and suffering, as well as strength and resistance, with relentless frankness and acute empathy.
  • From 1938 to 1962, Alice Neel and her family lived in Spanish Harlem (NY, USA) where the artist used her paintbrushes to capture the soul of her ethnically diverse, and often disadvantaged neighbors, who had seldom been the subjects of art until this point in time.
  • Her attention to the vulnerability of her sitters imbues her work with an unmistakable feeling, as they seek to shed light on the emotional and physical struggles of women, especially deprived women such as herself.
  • When figuration fell out of vogue in New York during the 1940s and 50s and Abstract Expressionism came to dominate, (which she described as ‘anti-humanist’) Neel refused to follow trends and change her style even though formal and technical experimentation were always part of her practice.
  • Nudity and sex as part of the human experience are core themes in Alice Neel’s body of work, she confidently subverted the way this genre had traditionally been treated throughout art history, where women were mere erotic objects.
  • “For me, people come first. I have tried to assert the dignity and eternal importance of the human being.”—Alice Neel, 1950

The Guggenheim Museum Bilbao presents the exhibition Alice Neel: People Come First, the first retrospective in Spain devoted to American artist Alice Neel (b. 1900, Pennsylvania; d. 1984, New York), thanks to the sponsorship of Iberdrola. The exhibition encompasses Neel’s entire career as an artist through some 100 paintings, drawings, and watercolors, including her most powerful portraits, which are celebrated today for their psychological insight.



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