The first time I saw an Alice Neel painting it stopped me in my tracks. The figure, outlined with a bright blue line, felt alive and so contemporary. When I first heard Neel’s voice last year, I was similarly stunned. Listening to Neel speak with art historian Cindy Nemser in the 1970s, I couldn’t believe how wry and funny and completely present she was.
“My mother used to say to me, ‘I don’t know what you expect to do, you’re only a girl.’ But this, instead of destroying me, made me more ambitious because I’d think, you know, I’ll show them, I’ll show her, I’ll show everybody,” Neel told Nemser. It was hard to imagine that Neel was born in 1900.
Getty’s new podcast series, Recording Artists: Radical Women, showcases archival interviews with six women artists, including Nemser’s interview with Neel. From the youthful voice of Betye Saar discussing serious feminist and anti-racist subjects, to the hushed and sultry voice of Eva Hesse, thick with her New York accent, each recording reveals the personality of the artist in new and provocative ways.
Candor and Introspection
The podcast is hosted by Los Angeles–based writer and curator Helen Molesworth. Each episode explores the life of one artist—Alice Neel, Lee Krasner, Betye Saar, Helen Frankenthaler, Yoko Ono, or Eva Hesse. These women span multiple generations, art movements, and mediums.
We hear these artists—each radical in her own way—discuss their lives and work with candor and introspection. To deepen our understanding of these interviews, Molesworth speaks with contemporary artists and art historians, including Moyra Davey, Sanford Biggers, Amy Sillman, and Alexander Nemerov, about how hearing the recordings impacted their thinking about these artists, whose work they already knew well.
Not surprisingly, many of the issues that surface still resonate today, for instance how it feels to be torn between making art and raising a child, or how to appreciate the power of anonymity in today’s culture of overexposure.
Rare, Intimate, Archival Audio
The archival audio featured in the podcast comes primarily from the collections of New York–based art critic Cindy Nemser and art historian Barbara Rose, both of which are contained in the Getty Research Institute’s archives. These are rare, intimate conversations with artists, generally recorded on reel-to-reel tape.
Nemser’s interviews formed the basis for her 1975 book, Art Talk: Conversations with 12 Women Artists. An outspoken feminist, Nemser was interested in getting to the root of how gender impacted the careers of the artists she spoke with.
Barbara Rose took a more traditional approach to art history, and her work rarely explicitly addressed gender. Nonetheless, she paid serious attention to women artists in the 1960s—something surprisingly few art historians were doing.
In the late 1960s and ’70s, when the bulk of these recordings were made, the United States was changing quickly. The feminist and civil rights movements were transforming culture and discourse. At times, the artists address these changes directly. At others, they acknowledge discrimination in the art world only obliquely. Lee Krasner remarks about her time on the Works Progress Administration (WPA) that there were a few women, but “you accepted that,” giving us a sense of how her awareness had changed from the 1930s, when the WPA was active, to the time of this interview in 1972.
All of these artists struggle with the desire to be taken seriously for their work, while recognizing society may not see them as equals to their male peers. As Lee Krasner puts it with her signature moxie, “I haven’t the patience or time to deal with knuckleheads.”