It’s perhaps telling that the opening to Als’s New Yorker text on Neel, an excerpt from the show’s catalogue, comes in the form of a long, personal lede about his own upbringing. Als recalls the feeling he felt as a boy of wanting to experience a “oneness” with the people around him. “I never want to do without love, even when I want to be alone,” he writes.
One beautiful passage, about why Als was drawn to the essay form as a way to unite his story with those of others, is worth including in full:
“In an essay, your story could include your actual story and even more stories; you could collapse time and chronology and introduce other voices. In short, the essay is not about the empirical ‘I’ but about the collective—all the voices that made your ‘I.’ When I first saw Alice Neel’s pictures, I think I recognized a similar ethos of inclusion in her work. The pictures were a collaboration, a pouring in of energy from both sides—the sitter’s and the artist’s.”
In some way, this exhibition is a lesson in humanity. It’s a reminder that in order to really see someone, you must meet that person with honesty, vulnerability, and the gift of your own story.