Portrait of Mildred Myers Oldden
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There’s a critical essay on Neel titled “Alice Neel: A Marxist Girl on Capitalism.” Which is like the academic equivalent of MIA’s video for “Bad Girls.”

And it fits too, Neel spent a number of years under FBI surveillance and also got Andy Warhol to strip for her, the 20th century bad girl.

Mildred Myers Oldden is the kind of woman who would have been first pick for any housing co-op in San Francisco: a lady boss who worked at a democratic collective publishing house that printed communist party writings and William Faulkner while telling the government that they were really just a farm. And look at those shoulder pads worn decades before they adorned finance bros, that cigarette holder like Cruella De Ville, millennial blush under a suit of power stripes–this woman is straight-up gunning for the end of Capitalism.

Despite all the revolutionary common ground between Neel and Oldden, the sitting was probably pretty awkward. Neel often made her subjects sit for entire afternoons and is quoted as saying “art is not as stupid as human conversation.”

It seems like they would have just sat in silence but probably Neel spent the entire sitting violently interrogating Oldden, trying to understand her personality. Sort of like when the dentist tries to make small talk while their hands are in your mouth. Neel also made sharp cat noises if her subject started to fall asleep. It all sounds very stressful and no fun and after all of that pretty much all Oldden got was a cartoon of herself looking successful but very, very alone.

But you know what’s even less fun? Just five years after this portrait, Neel was unsuccessful and alone, shoplifting in Harlem to feed her blind son and his half-brother. Shoot, even McCarthy would have been a Communist in a situation like that.



  1. Adams, Katherine H. and Michael L. Keen. Women, Art, and the New Deal. McFarland & Co.: Jefferson, 2016. Accessed Aug 8, 2017. .com/books?id=vWpECwAAQBAJ&pg=PA56&lpg=PA56&dq=mildred myers oldden&source=bl&ots=tU3L7daLMq&sig=_UIayzxXWY
  2. Farago, Jason, February 23, 2017. “Alice Neel’s Love of Harlem and the Neighbors She Painted There.” New York Times: Feb. 24, 2017. Accessed Aug 8, 2017.
  3. The Gallery. March 16, 2010. “Alice Neel’s Aphorisms.” The Gallery: The San Diego Museum of Art’s Blog for The Gallery. Accessed Aug 8, 2017.
  4. Henning, Rebecca. June 19, 2015. “Lynd Ward and the Equinox Cooperative Press.” The Consecrated Eminence, 2017. Accessed Aug 8, 2017. https://consecratedemin
  5. Hughes, Kathryn. October 12, 2014. “Dark Star: the paintings of Alice Neel.” The Telegraph: October 12, 2014. Accessed Aug 8, 2017. /culture/11144307/Dark-star-the-paintings-of-Alice-Neel.html
  6. Messud, Clare. October 5, 2016. “The Soul of Alice Neel.” New York Review of Books. Accessed Aug 8, 2017.