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    Sale 2049

    Post-War & Contemporary Art Morning Session

    13 November 2008, New York, Rockefeller Plaza

  • Lot 186

    Alice Neel (1900-1984)

    Jackie Curtis as a Boy

    Price Realised  

    Estimate

    Alice Neel (1900-1984)
    Jackie Curtis as a Boy
    signed and dated 'Neel 72' (lower left)
    oil on canvas
    44 x 30 in. (111.8 x 76.2 cm.)
    Painted in 1972.


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    Jackie Curtis was a close friend of Andy Warhol and a star of his many films. Immortalized as the drag queen "Jackie" in Lou Reed's "Walk on the Wild-Side", Curtis was an outsized personae and stage actor, often either performing as James Dean, or as Dean's feminine alter-ego. Jackie Curtis was a member of the Factory in the early 1970s and at that time Alice Neel was also enjoying status as the defacto portrait painter. Jackie Curtis as a Boy is the second of two known portraits of the performer painted by Neel, the first being a 1970 double portrait of Curtis with another noted factory member, Rita Red.
    In the present lot, Neel captures Curtis in a vulnerable position. For a performer so comfortable as a woman that he used to trick his roommates into thinking that he was one, Curtis is awkward in a loose baseball jersey and men's slacks. With his tensed fingers and sidelong glance, he exudes a sense of discomfort with his masculine dress; and even the title of the work implies that to dress in a manner consistent with his sex was for Curtis, a reverse sort of cross-dressing and perhaps a more difficult performance in itself.

    Writing on the piece, the curator Richard Flood meditates on the ambiguous gender identities at play within the piece:

    In Jackie Curtis as a Boy, Neel taps into a complicated psychosexual theatre of impersonation.Whether the portrait is of a girl or a transgendered male posing as a boy, it was clearly important to Neel that "posing" was the issue. Now Neel has placed him in a chair rather than a couch, which confines his body language and forces a more organized poseHis legs are crossed, and one hand plays over his thigh while the other holds the arm of the chair. He is any mother's son. But wait, the amplitude of his thigh is wrong: the crossed leg is pressed too tightly and rides too high over the knee. The hand on the chair clutches it too tensely, and the face, divided by a snaky S-curve, looks as if one side is covered in five o'clock shadow while the other is completely hairless. What begins to be revealed is an extremely complex portrait about multiple identities and multiple dreams in which Neel reclaims a lost boy but is also aware of what the boy has been lost to ("Gentlemen Callers: Alice Neel and the Art World," in A. Temkin, ed., Alice Neel, exh. cat., Philadelphia Museum of Art, 2001, p.61).

    Done in her mature style of gestured, expressionist portraiture, Jackie Curtis as a Boy is a sensational example of Neel's sensitivity to her sitters. As in her intimate and revealing portrait of Andy Warhol (in which the artist is shown slouched and displaying fresh scars from a brutal attack on his life), Neel unveils Jackie Curtis's psychological state with an acute and confident hand. By taking Curtis out of his element and painting him on an "off day", Neel provides us with a rarely-seen side of this legendary performance artist.

    Provenance

    Acquired from the artist by the present owner, 1982


    Saleroom Notice

    Please note this work has been requested for inclusion in the upcoming traveling exhibition, "Alice Neel: Painted Truths", Museum of Fine Arts, Houston; Whitechapel Gallery, London and Moderna Museet Malmo, Sweden, March 2010--January 2011.


    Exhibited

    New York, Whitney Museum of American Art, Alice Neel, February-March 1974.
    Summit Art Center, Paintings by Alice Neel, May-June 1974.
    Tokyo, Tokyu Department Store and Osaka, Han Shin Department Store, Tokyo International Biennial, 1974: New Image in Painting, September 1974.
    Glenside, Beaver College Art Gallery, Alice Neel, March-April 1976.
    Fort Lauderdale Museum of Art, Alice Neel, February 1978.
    Milwaukee, Alverno Collge, Alice Neel, October-November 1978.
    Saratoga Springs, New Art Center, Skidmore College, Alice Neel Paintings, November-December 1978.
    Williamstown, Williams College Museum of Art, Paintings by Alice Neel, March 1979.
    Philadelphia, Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, Alice Neel: Paintings Since 1970, January-March 1985.
    Roslyn, Nassau County Museum of Fine Art, Alice Neel: Paintings and Drawings, March-May 1986.
    New York, Whitney Museum of American Art; Andover, Addison Gallery of American Art; Philadelphia Museum of Art; Minneapolis, Walker Art Center and Denver Museum of Art, Alice Neel, June 2000-December 2001, pp. 140 and 185, pl. 60 (illustrated in color).