Louise Nevelson

(1899 - 1988)

American, born Russia

Louise Nevelson immigrated with her family to the United States in 1905 to escape the persecution in czarist Russia of people of Jewish faith. They settled in the small town of Rockland, Maine, where they continued to experience some alienation as one of the few Jewish families around. Nevelson married Charles Nevelson in 1920, and the couple moved to New York City; they separated in 1931. Nevelson studied opera and drama for several years before turning to visual art in 1929. She studied at the Art Students League in New York with famed abstract expressionist and influential teacher Hans Hofmann. Throughout the 1940s and 1950s, Nevelson worked through a succession of stylistic influences, including cubism, surrealism, and non-Western art before cultivating her own mature style. Her major breakthrough came in 1958 with the installation Moon Garden + One, a sculptural “environment” that transformed the entire gallery into a work of art. Moon Garden’s central element, Sky Cathedral, which was acquired by the Museum of Modern Art in New York City the same year, was a room-size installation composed of stacked boxes filled with fragments of carved wood and found objects such as chair backs, furniture legs and spindles, all painted a uniform matte black. Standing in stark contrast to the open-form, welded metal sculpture dominating New York’s art scene of the 1950s, Nevelson’s wooden assemblages explored ideas surrounding containment, totality and darkness.

Nevelson later expanded her interest in monochrome to include white, which represented innocence and beginnings for the artist, and gold, which she referred to as her “Baroque period.” Beginning in the late 1960s, Nevelson began taking on public commissions to create large outdoor sculptures, which she realized in Cor-Ten steel.

Nevelson was included in the landmark 1959 exhibition Sixteen Americans at the Museum of Modern Art, New York City, and the American pavilion of the 1962 Venice Biennale. The Whitney Museum of American Art in New York City organized major retrospectives of her work in 1967, 1970 and 1980. Nevelson’s artworks are included in such public collections as the Guggenheim Museum, the Museum of Modern Art and the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City, the Art Institute of Chicago, Illinois, and the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden in Washington, D.C.

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