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Inside the NEU: Al Held


This edition of Inside the NEU explores the life and work of Abstract Expressionist Al Held (1928−2005). 


In January 2020, the Neuberger Museum of Art unveiled Recent Acquisitions, an exhibition of paintings, drawings, sculpture, and mixed media works recently acquired by the museum. Included was Al Held’s Untitled (1955), a work created during the artist’s pigment series and donated to the Neuberger in 2019 by the Al Held Foundation in honor of the late Irving Sandler, noted art historian, author, distinguished professor of art history at Purchase College, and former director of the Neuberger Museum of Art.

Held’s work, Untitled, ca 1960, was included in the Neuberger exhibition Irving Sandler: Points of View organized by museum director Tracy Fitzpatrick following Sandler’s passing in 2018.

A future Neuberger Museum ArtTrek will be planned to the Al Held Foundation at the artist’s former home and studio in Boiceville, New York.

Artist Al Held in his New York studio, 1957Photo by Sam Francis; image from the Al Held Foundatio...

Artist Al Held in his New York studio, 1957
Photo by Sam Francis; image from the Al Held Foundation website.

About the Artist

Born in Brooklyn, New York, Al Held left high school before graduation and enlisted in the Navy as soon as he turned 17. He used the GI Bill to pursue a newly discovered interest in art; while studying in Paris and traveling through Europe his interest shifted from social realism to abstract expressionism. Upon returning to New York, Held became one of the founding members of the cooperative Brata Gallery and was active at The Club, the meeting place of the Abstract Expressionists. 

Though he worked in several different styles throughout his career, including his pigment paintings during the 1950s, Held is best known as a pioneer of hard edge abstraction. His home and large studio spaces in Ulster County, New York—recommended earlier in 2020 for listing on the New York State and National Registers of Historic Places—allowed him to pursue the kind of large-scale work he found so compelling.

Today, Held’s work is represented in dozens of public collections and has been exhibited widely in solo and group shows across the United States and Canada, Latin America, and Europe.

Did You Know
Though he had not finished his own high school education, Held was a Visiting Professor of Art at Yale University from 1963 to 1980.  Watch this video to hear the advice Alex Katz provided that carried Held through his tenure at Yale. 


  • Learn more about Held’s life, paintings, and philosophy in this Gallery Talk hosted by Blouin ArtInfo featuring Daniel Kunitz, Editor-in-Chief of Modern Painters and Barbara Rose, famed art historian and critic.
    This Gallery Talk was hosted at the Van Doren Waxter Gallery on June 24th, 2015.

  • Watch as Irving Sandler discusses his relationship with Al Held and shares insights on the unique series of black and white paintings that Held started in 1967.

    Irving Sandler on Al Held - Cheim & Read Gallery Video Produced by Cheim & Read for its Spring 2016 gallery exhibition Al Held: Black and White Paintings 1967-1969.

    Did You Know
    In 1965, Irving Sandler curated the critically acclaimed Concrete Expressionism show at New York University that featured Al Held’s paintings.  

More Information


August 25, 2020