The human form was a popular and generative subject in 2017, after years when it felt like enthusiasm for figurative painting and drawing was muted, at best. From Hilton Als’s intimate curation of Alice Neel’s portraits of friends and neighbors from her half-century living in Upper Manhattan to Lynette Yiadom-Boakye’s utterly contemporary, imaginative, haunting conceptual portraits, figuration — old and new — was everywhere and somehow constantly fresh. Here are five of our favorites.
Nina Chanel Abney, Seized the Imagination at Jack Shainman Gallery and Safe House at Mary Boone Gallery
November 9–December 20 and November 9–December 22
The figures in Nina Chanel Abney’s concurrent shows were something like snapshot allegories of our precise cultural moment. The paintings are full of sharp edges and confusing scenes; language is abstracted or decontextualized or thrown suddenly into stark, violent relief. Race, gender, and power collide as figures are unable to escape the frames into which she’s fit them. Motifs emerge and recede and repeat. Crammed together into scenes of chaos, confusion, or conflict; holstering guns and framed by smart phones; covered by words of horror, surprise, or resignation; looking like cops and Trump and us, Abney’s figures embody and evoke all the tension of intersecting narratives that make America great and terrible. —Laila Pedro
Alice Neel, Uptown at David Zwirner
February 23–April 22
Hilton Als, one of our preeminent…