Cindy Nemser, Advocate for Women Artists, Is Dead at 83


Ms. Nemser taught elementary school while taking night classes toward a master’s degree in literature at Brooklyn College, then earned a second master’s degree at New York University’s Institute of Fine Arts in 1966.

During an internship at the Museum of Modern Art, she began writing for Arts magazine, Art in America and other publications. Later in her career she wrote about theater. Occasionally she changed hats and organized art exhibitions. There was “In Her Own Image” in 1974 at the Fleisher Art Memorial in Philadelphia and, some 33 years later, “Women’s Work: Homage to Feminist Art” at the Tabla Rasa Gallery in Brooklyn.

In addition to her daughter, Ms. Nemser is survived by her husband and a grandson.

For several years Alice Neel had been asking to paint Ms. Nemser’s portrait, and when Ms. Nemser assented in 1975, the artist surprised her by saying she wanted to paint both her and her husband. When the two arrived at Ms. Neel’s apartment on a cold February day, Ms. Neel was put off by their winter-weather garments.

“‘All those clothes,’ she wailed as she looked me over,’” Ms. Nemser recalled on her blog. “‘You look so fussy with all those layers of clothes and all that Mickey Mouse jewelry.’”

What would be ideal, Ms. Neel concluded, would be for them to lose the clothes. All of them. She wanted to paint them in the nude. Some negotiation, and some shedding of garments, followed. Ms. Neel offered a compromise: Ms. Nemser could be in her underwear, her husband fully dressed.

“Forget that,” Ms. Nemser said. “I’ll look like a hooker in a bordello.”

“And so,” she recounted on her blog, “after an hour and a half of deliberation, dread and doubts, there I was sitting naked on Alice’s green silk-covered Empire-style couch next to my almost undressed husband, who had only stripped to his briefs. It looked as if he were naked because in the pose we had taken I completely covered his genitalia.”

The resulting painting has been reproduced and exhibited a number of times.



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