About The Artist
The work of American artist Louise Nevelson (1899–1988) defies easy categorization. Born in Pereyaslav (near Kiev), Ukraine, her family emigrated to the U.S. when she was six years old, settling in Rockland, Maine. After marrying young, Nevelson and her husband moved to New York City where she took classes in painting and drawing. Nevelson became very active in the New York art community from the 1930s onward, though she never subscribed to a single artistic movement; she studied under Hans Hofmann at the Art Students League, was hired as an assistant to Diego Rivera on a mural project,and then worked for the Works Progress Administration until 1939.
Nevelson is best known for her intricately constructed, monochromatic sculptures, which were mostly made from wood. Experiencing poverty after the end of her marriage in 1941, Nevelson foraged for firewood in New York, often taking home what she found and spray-painting the pieces before incorporating them into her work. Usually positioned against a wall, her sculptures functioned like reliefs. They comprised multiple box shapes, within which were set various furniture parts, table legs and other mechanical-looking objects. Her use of found material suggests the influence of modernist masters like Marcel Duchamp, while the geometric angles bear the hallmarks of Cubism.
Despite her artistic innovations, Nevelson struggled to support herself and did not receive wider recognition until much later on in her career. In 1959 she was included in the group exhibition "Sixteen Americans", at the Museum of Modern Art in New York, which established the careers of artists like Frank Stella, Robert Rauschenberg, Jasper Johns and Ellsworth Kelly, who were in their twenties and thirties. She chose to create an all-white room-sized installation (until this point, all of her works had been black) titled Dawn’s Wedding Feast, which signaled a momentous shift in her career.
Nevelson was then selected to represent America at the 31st Venice Biennale in 1962 and went on to her first retrospective at the Whitney Museum of American Art in 1967. Her work became increasingly monumental and she was commissioned to make her first outdoor public sculptures. Emboldened by these opportunities, Nevelson began experimenting with new materials like plastic, metal and aluminum, acrylic and steel. While her early works reflected on deeply personal subjects, Nevelson’s later, more expansive environmental sculpture came to encompass broader religious and social issues.
Nevelson is represented in several important collections around the world, including Museum of Modern Art (MoMA), New York; Whitney Museum of American Art, New York; Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York; Museum of Contemporary Art (MOCA), Los Angeles; Museo Tamayo, Mexico City; Tate, London and Hara Museum of Contemporary Art, Tokyo.
Nevelson, Louise, Brooke Kamin. Rapaport, and Arthur C. Danto. The Sculpture of Louise Nevelson: Constructing a Legend. New York: Jewish Museum, 2009. 3, 22. Print.