American portrait painter Alice Neel
's painting of civil rights activist Hugh Hurd is now a part of the collection at Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art.
Neel, who lived in Spanish Harlem, is known for her unflinching style in portraiture. Jeremy Lewison, in his article "Showing the Barbarity of Life: Alice Neel's Grotesque," quotes the artist as saying, "I love to paint people torn by all the things that they
are torn by today in the rat race in New York."
Hurd, comedian Godfrey Cambridge and author Maya Angelou organized one of the first New York fundraisers for Martin Luther King Jr., in the late 1950s at Village Gate, according to Crystal Bridges' announcement. Hurd also co-founded with Cambridge the Committee for the Employment of Negro Performers in 1962. "Their leadership, foregrounding the issue of racial discrimination in the entertainment industry, prompted Harlem Rep. Adam Clayton Powell Jr. (D-N.Y.) to hold Congressional hearings on the subject," Crystal Bridges announcement said. More about Hurd:
On screen, Hurd played the male lead in “Shadows,” the 1960 improvisational film directed by John Cassavetes that was shot without a screenplay. He had a supporting role in “For Love of Ivy” (1968), the Sidney Poitier film that also featured Abbey Lincoln, Beau Bridges, and Carroll O’Connor. Also in 1968, when Arena Stage theater in Washington, D.C., sought to integrate its performances nearly two decades after its founding, Hurd took on the role of Mack the Knife in its production of “The Threepenny Opera.” His last acting credit was in a 1994 French documentary by Cassavetes. Hurd died in 1995 at age 70.
Neel painted Hurd, who like Neel lived in Spanish Harlem, in 1964. The museum acquired the painting from David Zwirner Gallery last year.