The portraitist Alice Neel wasn’t afraid to paint the naked body. In the de Young exhibit Alice Neel: People Come First (through July 10), she depicts mothers breastfeeding their babies, exposing tumid flesh, nipples and veins. Neel also applies the female gaze to her male nudes. Ex-lovers and friends show up in odalisque-like poses—some aroused, others not.
Painted four years before her death, her own self-portrait from 1980 is a nude outlined in a Mediterranean blue that Matisse favored in his late drawings and cut-outs. She holds a paintbrush in her right hand and white rag in her left. The painter stares, unsmiling, at the viewer on a pastel plane of intersecting greens, oranges and blues.
But Alice Neel: People Come First is about more than physical forms. Neel is certainly looking at the body, in its various shapes, individual quirks and colors, but she’s also exposing personalities, character traits, and, should it exist, the soul.
Each subject is on intimate terms with the painter, in that particular moment. She fixes each individual in a contemplative space. The canvases aren’t depictions of joy or happiness. Neel manages to catch their private expressions. It’s as if they’re gazing into a mirror, assessing themselves when nobody else is around. Except the painter is there, reflecting them back to the viewer. If Neel’s palette were duller and darker, the paintings might owe something to Otto Dix’s more acidic approach to portraiture, which was informed by the pre-World War II era of the Weimar Republic. But her backgrounds are airier, sparer, often conveying the feeling of a safe space—at least while the subject is sitting still in her studio.
Neel’s 20th century contemporaries were the mostly male art-world stars of abstract expressionism. Alice Neel: People Come First succeeds in securing her place in the same canon. The curators acknowledge that her humanistic approach to painting people is of equal value to, say, a Jackson Pollock drip painting. Where the exhibit overreaches, at times, is in its subjective interpretations of specific works. Neel paints her sons together as boys and, in a later painting, one of them as an adult.
For the curator, the son’s crime is that he’s grown up to become a businessman. Neel paints him on the canvas in a suit and tie. She includes his side reflection in a mirror. His jawline is doubled and both versions of his face include green shadows. This particular green contributes to the interpretation that Neel is condemning his profession—he’s a corporate sell out! But Neel uses a similar green to highlight the veins in the nourishing breasts of a mother and child painting. Mother Neel herself might have given her son that green as her legacy. Or, more likely, she used the color because it looked and felt exactly right at the time.
— Jeffrey Edalatpour
de Young Museum, 50 Hagiwara Tea Garden Dr.
Through July 10 | $15
Thursday, March 17, 6-11 p.m. | $5+
Get ready for lively gangs of revelers to descend on various bars in the city for a two-day drinking celebration of Irish pride and heritage. (Think of it as the St. Paddy’s Day version of Santacon.) Day one kicks off at Mayes Oyster House on Thursday, with stops at Lush Lounge, El Lopo, R Bar, Amsterdam, Soda Popinski’s and the Wreck Room. Day two on Saturday extends the luck of the Irish festivities across more than a dozen bars, with check-in spots at Mayes, Nick’s Crispy Tacos and Del Mar. A second crawl is planned for Saturday, March 19 from 2-10 p.m. (CJC)
Grace Cathedral, 1100 California St.
Friday, March 18, 6:30-9:30 p.m. | $15
Dance your way to a higher plane in a heavenly setting this Friday, as San Francisco house music legend Mark Farina beams a live DJ set straight to your eardrums. Farina will be joined by the LA-based DJ Drez, who’s worked with everyone from the Black Eyed Peas and Eminem to Moby and Ziggy Marley. Drez’s meditative mixes—some of them influenced by Sanskrit—ought to pair well with Grace Cathedral’s soaring gothic arches. Don’t forget to bring your headphones, mask, vax card, dancing shoes and phone to this silent disco. (CJC)
SFJAZZ Center’s Joe Henderson Lab, 201 Franklin St.
Friday, March 18 @ 7 p.m. & 8:30 p.m. | $30
A pianist and composer with a fecund melodic imagination and sublime touch, Helen Sung is part of a wave of brilliant musicians hailing from Houston’s storied High School for the Performing and Visual Arts. She’s become a familiar presence at the SFJAZZ Center since her 2000 debut with saxophone legend Wayne Shorter. Focusing on music from her new Sunnyside release Quartet+, Sung’s stellar band features SFJAZZ Collective drummer Kendrick Scott and special guest violinist Jenny Scheinman, a breathtaking improviser who’s toured and recorded extensively with Bill Frisell, Nels Cline and recently departed cornetist Ron Miles. (AG)
CounterPulse, 80 Turk St.
Friday-Saturday, March 18-19, 7:30 p.m. | Sliding Scale or $15+
CounterPulse’s two-weekend Weaving Spirits Festival celebrates Native American two-spirit performers (those who identify as both male and female or a distinct third gender) and performance art with a powerful range of offerings, including live storytelling, drag, short films and traditional drum circles and song. The festival also features a series of panels and workshops discussing topics such as the political impact of dance and queerness, drumming as medicine and two-spirit drama therapy. Tickets are available on a sliding scale and all are welcome. The event runs next weekend as well, March 24-26. (CJC)
Incline Gallery, 766 Valencia St.
Saturday, March 19, 1-6 p.m. | Free
Sun Night Editions co-founders Yoni Asega and Drew Grasso bring highlights from their community-powered, West Oakland-based print publishing house to the twists and turns of the Mission’s zig-zagging Incline Gallery during the opening night reception of this exhibit. Originally conceived as Asega and Grasso’s personal print studio, the duo transformed Sun Night Editions into an open art space for creatives in local communities to learn and work on traditional printmaking techniques such as screen printing and bookbinding in 2019 and expand their connections to new audiences and collectors. The exhibition features prints by over 25 artists from the Bay Area and beyond. The most notable among them is Jason Jägel, whose work has appeared as album art for the late, great MF Doom and on the walls of local cafes. (CJC)
The Chapel, 777 Valencia St.
Saturday, March 19, 9 p.m. | $15
Like her brother-in-avant-pop, Daniel Lopatin—better known as Oneohtrix Point Never—Scottish musician Anna Meredith is proof that good things come to those who are weird. Just as Lopatin rode an ocean of glitchy sine waves to a thriving partnership with alt-R&B superstar, The Weeknd, Meredith wound her way to Hollywood via a series of ambitious and academic collections of post-modern electronic tunes. In addition to her studio albums and the art installations she has tracked, she has contributed music to a number of films—including Eighth Grade, comedian Bo Burnham’s directorial debut, and The Favourite, Yorgos Lanthimos’ Acadamy Award-winning period piece—as well as the Paul Rudd-starring Netflix series Living With Yourself. (NV)
Washington Square Park, North Beach
Saturday, March 19, 2:30 p.m. to 8:30 p.m. | Free
Whether you’re a bride-to-be, long married or a confirmed bachelor/ette, the only requirement for this gathering spoofing the institution of marriage is that you wear a white wedding dress (preferably a thrifted one). You don’t need a ring or commitment to participate. Inspired by racks of secondhand wedding dresses in thrift stores, this annual parade and pub crawl through the streets of San Francisco will step off from Washington Square with a bridal procession down Columbus Avenue and stop offs at “DIY wedding receptions” at bars and parklets along Grant Avenue. (CJC)
War Memorial Veterans Building, 401 Van Ness Ave.
Sunday, March 20, 12 p.m.-7 p.m. | Free
Sample a wide variety of genres at this seven-hour live music marathon hosted by Bay Area- based nonprofit InterMusicSF. Twenty-five ensembles take over four stages at the venerable War Memorial Veterans Building, playing everything from baroque and classical to jazz and cutting edge new music from around the Bay Area and beyond. Among many others, SF-born Classical Revolution (known for playing in plant shops, local cafes and bars) performs chamber music, the Oakland-based Ayala Project combines South Indian sounds with jazz, the five-piece wind ensemble Quintento Latino highlights the work of Latinx composers, and Anna Maria Mendieta's Tango del Cielo gives a tango twist to the music of the harp. (CJC)
Jeffrey Edalatpour, Andrew Gilbert, Christina Campodonico and Nick Veronin contributed additional reporting for this story.
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