The normal lot of an artist is recognition early, recognition late, or no recognition at all. Late recognition often prompts a thorough re-examination of the artist’s oeuvre—not just his recent work, but everything, stretching back to the very beginnings of his career. The discussion is then likely to focus on how the artist’s early work illumines whatever movements he may have been a part of.

The case of George McNeil, currently the subject of a retrospective exhibition at the Artists’ Choice Museum in New York,[1] is different. McNeil, now 76, is a first-generation Abstract Expressionist. He first showed at the Egan Gallery in 1950, two years after De Kooning. But he finds himself today mentioned repeatedly in discussions of Neo-Expressionist painting, and even embraced as something of a godfather by partisans of...


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