Louise Nevelson
Year, Birthplace 1899, Russia
Year, Place of death 1988, United States
Nationality United States
Fleeing the pogroms, Louise Nevelson’s family emigrated to the United States in 1905 and settled in Rockland, Maine, where her father worked in the building industry and ran a carpenter’s workshop. From the age of sixteen, Louise expressed her wish to become an artist, particularly a sculptor, which already suggested her character. In 1920, after completing secondary school, she married the much older businessman Charles Nevelson and settled in New York, where she began taking classes in drawing, painting, singing and drama. She discovered modern art by visiting museums and took courses at The Art Students League of New York with Kenneth Hayes Miller. She decided to begin more serious studies and in 1931 left for Munich to take classes with Hans Hofmann, a very famous teacher at the time. She visited Paris, which made a strong impression on her. She was even more impressed by the African sculptures that she discovered at the Musée de l’Homme (where she returned in 1932). She then continued her studies in New York, where Hans Hofmann and Georges Grosz, fleeing the Nazis, had gone to teach. She began to move in artistic circles and in 1932 became the assistant of Diego Rivera. Her first participation in a group exhibition of young sculptors organised by the Secession Gallery at the Brooklyn Museum dates from 1935. After separating from her husband she worked in the world of sculpture, which was not very favourable to women, coming close to poverty and suffering long periods of depression. In 1937, faced with financial difficulties, she received help from the state within the framework of the Works Progress Administration and taught art at the Education Alliance School of Art in New York. Her first solo exhibition, which marked the real start of her career, took place in 1941 at the Nierendorf Gallery in New York. She was then forty-two years old. In the 1950s she systematically began to restore pieces of wood that she found scattered around the street, in a furniture factory, or which was brought to her by friends. She gathered them together, swapped their positions around, regrouped them, and finally assembled them. The artist would fit these abandoned pieces of wood from the most varied sources – pieces of chairs, wardrobes, stairs or balusters – into stacked boxes, building abstract, monumental and baroque architectural structures. These pieces, like their title, suggest an imaginary, poetic world. For her, each restored object had a story and lived. She wanted to show that art was everywhere, regardless of the purpose of the object and the quality of its executor. Louise Nevelson’s first sculptures were fully painted in matt black so that the shapes would be more clearly distinguished, because matt black is the strongest and purest of colours. In 1954-1955 she began to make ‘stacked boxes’ that could reach heights and widths of several metres (Sky Cathedral, 1958, MoMA, New York), which she then joined together to create ‘environments’. Later she painted the wood in white (Dawn’s Wedding Chapel, 1959, Whitney Museum of American Art, New York). She then created what resembled freestanding sculptures, columns or totems. After this she turned to gold with the series Royal Tide (Royal Tide 1, 1961-1963, Whitney Museum, New York). Finally, she integrated mirrors or perspex into her work. Once they were painted in black, white or gold, these gigantic walls with heteroclite contents took on a strange beauty, at once invoking the ancient ruin, the city under construction and society getting rid of its rubbish. In 1962 she was chosen to represent the United States at the Venice Biennale. Each room was dedicated to a colour: black, white and gold. The Whitney Museum dedicated an important retrospective to her in 1967. She exhibited all over the world and was responsible for the arrangement of the ‘boxes’ in each exhibition, paying special attention to light and the interplay of shadows. From 1969 onwards she was increasingly commissioned to produce monumental sculptures. She opened up to other techniques such as Corten steel and aluminium. This unclassifiable artist, despite being randomly associated with abstract expressionism or pop art, showed all her independence and originality. Alongside Alexander Calder and David Smith, Louise Nevelson is considered to be one of the great driving forces behind modern sculpture in the United States. AC
1960 - 1964