Three exhibitions to see in New York this weekend

From Alice Neel at the Met to an ode to the first Black woman astronaut by Damien Davis

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Alice Neel, The Spanish Family (1943) © The Estate of Alice Neel

Alice Neel, The Spanish Family (1943) © The Estate of Alice Neel

Alice Neel: People Come First

Until 1 August at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1000 Fifth Avenue, Manhattan

The Met’s retrospective to the late US painter Alice Neel (1900-1984) chronicles six decades of the artist’s prolific career, from her ruminative portraits of New York’s global diaspora to her visceral depictions of motherhood. Some of the most striking pieces in the show are the nude portraits Neel painted of pregnant women—a subject she said was missing in Western art—that capture the psychological and physical weight of the moment, like the painting Margaret Evans Pregnant (1978) depicting a friend of the artist who was pregnant with twins. The show also examines Neel’s lifelong engagement with New York, including piercing portraits of her neighbours in Spanish Harlem, and her work for the Works Progress Administration during the Great Depression. Neel stuck to an Expressionist painting style in an era where Abstraction reigned, and was “ambitious at a time when women were not expected to be ambitious, or to be artists”, says Kelly Baum, the Met’s Cynthia Hazen Polsky and Leon Polsky curator of contemporary and Modern art.

Lee Godie, Untitled (around 1980) ⁠ Photo courtesy John and Teenuh Foster

Photo | Brut: Collection Bruno Decharme and Compagnie

Until 6 June at the American Folk Art Museum, 2 Lincoln Square, Manhattan

The first comprehensive exhibition to focus on Art Brut photographs, an understudied facet of the self-taught art canon, comprises around 400 photographs by 40 artists who provide “fresh insight and innovative perspective into the medium”, says Valérie Rousseau, the senior curator of the museum. The show comprises pieces by well-known artists like Eugene Von Bruenchenhein, including never exhibited works by the artist, as well as names that may be unfamiliar like Lee Goldie, a homeless woman in Chicago who personified a range of characters and genders in her captivating black-and-white self-portraits from the 1970s—a practice later associated with artists like Cindy Sherman. The show is a slightly abridged version of an acclaimed exhibit at the 2019 photography festival Rencontres d'Arles, which Rousseau produced in collaboration with the French filmmaker and collector Bruno Decharme with works mostly drawn from Decharme’s collection.

Damien Davis, Atmospheric Break (Blackamoors Collages #469) (2021) Courtesy Mrs. Gallery

Damien Davis: Weightless

Until 8 May at Mrs., 60-40 56th Drive, Queens

The US artist Damien Davis has constructed an ode to Mae Jemison, the first Black woman ever to travel into space. Though the exhibition's title no doubt references the zero-gravity sensation experienced by astronauts, it also invokes an imagined, idyllic society here on Earth; one in which the unyielding pressures of bigotry and inequity would cease to weigh down upon us. Davis has developed a delicate lexicon of lasercut forms that are intricately assembled with steel hardware that protrude like little puncture wounds, at once piercing the objects and holding them together. Motifs include Jemison’s space suit and helmet, cowry shells, teeth, a pattern alluding to Black Panthers co-founder Huey P. Newton’s rattan chair, spaceships, and innumerable more. As in science fiction and afro-futurism, the works on view here feel both retro and highly futuristic, as if we have to look to the past before we can look to the future.

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