The works in this installation present a range of approaches that eight prominent American artists have taken to depicting the human form. The selection begins in the 1960s, when the powerful tide of Abstract Expressionism had receded and the brash new phenomenon of Pop art was rapidly gaining momentum. These artists stood apart from prevailing trends, developing their own individual styles.
The only Californian in the group, Richard Diebenkorn (1922–1993), made representational art for a decade before embarking on his abstract Ocean Park paintings in 1967. In the gallery, premonitions of those highly structured compositions appear in the bands of color that surround a boldly composed nude of 1962. In 1961 the sculptor George Segal (1924–2000) began using plaster surgical bandages to cast directly from the human body, sometimes adding found props to create tableau-like installations. The artist and teacher Will Barnet (b. 1911), who is still active in New York at the age of ninety-nine, shifted away from abstraction in the 1960s and began making portraits of friends, such as the picture of the American art historian Ruth Bowman (b. 1923), in which the summary forms and hard-edged silhouettes recall his years as an abstract painter.
Alice Neel (1900–1984), the most senior of the artists, chronicled her world through portraits of friends, family members, and art-world figures, including the former Metropolitan Museum curator Henry Geldzahler (1935–1994) and the art patron Arthur Bullowa (1910–1993), both depicted in 1967 in the same high-backed armchair. The painter, poet, and critic Fairfield Porter (1907–1975) placed his sitters in quiet, furnished interiors or verdant landscapes near his Southampton home. The portraits by Andrew Wyeth (1917–2009) illustrate his exacting brand of realism and were executed in his hometown, Chadds Ford, Pennsylvania.
Although Philip Pearlstein (b. 1924) has made pictures of friends, including fellow New York painter Alex Katz (b. 1927), he has largely focused his intense gaze on anonymous nude models with cropped or obscured features, posing them in spatially compressed settings beneath harsh studio light. In the late 1950s Katz began to make freestanding painted cutouts, the format he used in 1978 to depict Pearlstein. The most recent work on view is Katz's arresting double portrait of 2007 showing Rosamond Bernier (b. 1916), a writer on art and culture and a legendary lecturer at the Museum for more than thirty years, and her late husband, the art critic John Russell (1919–2008), who throughout his long, illustrious career covered all the artists in this gallery and countless others.