Al Held was born in Brooklyn in 1928. After dropping out of high school, he joined the Navy and served from 1945 to 1947. The following year, he attended the Art Students League in New York, and between 1951 and 1953 he studied at the Académie de la Grande Chaumière in Paris under the GI Bill. His first solo show took place at the Galerie Huit in Paris in 1952. Upon returning to New York, he became one of the founding members of the cooperative Brata Gallery and participated in events at The Club, the meeting place of the Abstract Expressionists.
His first solo exhibition in New York was at the Poindexter Gallery in 1960; his work has been exhibited widely in the United States and Canada, Latin America, and Europe, including one-person shows at the Stedelijk Museum, Amsterdam; the San Francisco Museum of Art; the Corcoran Gallery of Art, Washington, DC; the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York; and the Whitney Museum of American Art, New York. In 1963 he became a Visiting Professor at Yale University and taught there until 1980. He died in Camerata di Todi, Italy, in 2005 at the age of 76.
Held’s work is represented in dozens of public collections, including the Museum of Modern Art, Metropolitan Museum of Art, Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, Brooklyn Museum, and Whitney Museum of American Art, all in New York; National Gallery of Art, Washington, DC; Art Institute of Chicago; San Francisco Museum of Modern Art; Detroit Institute of Arts; High Museum of Art, Atlanta; Museum of Fine Arts, Boston; Museum of Fine Arts, Houston; Tate Gallery, London; Kunsthaus, Zürich; Kunstmuseum, Basel; and Museum Kunstpalast, Düsseldorf.