SynopsisLouise Nevelson became renowned during the Abstract Expressionist period for constructing crated assemblages full of wooden items grouped together into monochromatically painted cubic structures. Her aim to reinvigorate found objects with a spiritual life was informed by feminist ideals and Nevelson's strong persona, which inspired multitudinous female artists associated with the women's movement. Influenced by Duchamp's found object sculptures, Nevelson sought to build abstract wooden environments, painted gold, black, or white, that obscured original content to historicize debris with a second, more mysterious narrative life. The narratives in her artwork originated from her personal migration history as a Jewish woman who relocated to America, and from her active life in New York's artistic community.
Key Ideas / Information
ChildhoodAt age six, in 1905, Nevelson immigrated with her father to Rockland, Maine from Ukraine. Born Leah Berliawsky, her family was forced to relocate due to cultural strain between the Jewish community and Tsarist Russians. Nevelson claimed to have known from the beginning that she would be an artist, and at age nine was called to sculpt by a statue of Joan of Arc at the Rockland Public Library. In 1920, soon after she married Charles Nevelson, the couple moved to New York, where Louise sought to hone her artistic career.
Early TrainingLouise Nevelson left both her husband and her son, Mike, behind for travel to Munich to study under . Her decision to focus on her career instead of just solely on mothering formed her sculptural installations such as Dawn's Wedding Feast. In 1932, when Hans Hofmann decided to come to America, Nevelson followed his lead in becoming a student at the Art Students League, an art school where and other Abstract Expressionist artists studied. Here, she studied painting, modern dance, and sculpture, and built constructions based on portrait and lighter subject matter relative to her future work. It was also during this time that she met Frieda Kahlo and Diego Rivera, and assisted the legendary muralist for a period. Nevelson also hosted community meetings, which she called Four O'Clock Forums. These forums became the meeting grounds for Abstract Expressionist artists, and fostered a sense of camaraderie among her peers.
Mature PeriodIn the 1940s, when the artist began making sculpture made from cast-off scrap wood, Nevelson's favored material was a radical departure from male artistic endeavors, like Isamu Noguchi's and Alexander Calder's, who were welding metal. Dynamism of form, derived from her studies of Cubism, became Nevelson's trademark as she crafted surreal, totemic monuments that served loosely as maps to the artist's mind. While making a reputation for her sculptural bravado, Nevelson also cultivated her extravagant personal style, which included long dresses and false eyelashes, to dovetail with her desire to express emotion through art. Following World War II, Nevelson, like other Abstract Expressionist artists, made work that illustrated how freedom of expression was a political act.
Late Period and deathTo further define her artwork as uniquely female, Louise Nevelson not only adopted wood as her signature material, but also avoided using typical carpentry to manufacture her pieces. Her process became purely additive, wherein she stacked and balanced objects before nailing together and painting them, as opposed to carved. In this, her artwork has a full-bodied, positive feeling that is trademark Nevelson. To further this concept, Nevelson purposefully selected objects that had an initially intimate scale that became grander viewed holistically, combined into environments. Subject matter in her work during her long career ranged from her personal feelings about uprooted childhood, culture, and war, to nature's divinity. In the 1950s, the artist mentioned her admiration for the power and scale of the pyramids, and her work in ensuing decades clearly reflected this need for communion with nature on a religious level.
LegacyNevelson's work was a fundamental building block in the history of feminist art, for its challenge to stereotypically "male" sculptural forms. In Linda Nochlin's famous essay, "Why Have There Been No Great Women Artists?," Nevelson was listed as a major influence on a new generation of females struggling to redefine femininity in art. Beyond this, Nevelson's sculpture can also be considered a predecessor to installation art due to the way she designed pieces in her exhibitions to function, not only as discrete objects, but as parts of a whole. Furthermore, Nevelson has extended the Duchampian conversation in found object sculpture and the readymade, which continues to contemporary practice today.
Below are Louise Nevelson's major influences, and the people and ideas that she influenced in turn.
Willem De Kooning
Years Worked: 1940s - 1980s
Quotes"Now that's true, I have called my shots on Earth. I have had a blueprint on my life and that's why I am positive about it. Now you can see that I'm a bit shy and I can get hurt by dropping a handkerchief - I can croak or something - but where my creation is, I am totally one piece."
WHERE TO SEE WORKS:
Museum of Modern Artwww.MoMA.org
Metropolitan Museum of Artwww.METmuseum.org
BiographiesLouise Nevelson: A Passionate Life
Dawns and Dusks: Taped Conversations With Diana MacKown
PaintingsThe Sculpture of Louise Nevelson
Louise Nevelson: Sculpture of the '50s and '60s
By Andrea K. Scott
May 9, 2007
Websites about artist
Louise Nevelson Plaza
Corner of William St. and Maiden Lane, New York City
Update on newly-renovated Louise Nevelson Plaza in Lower Manhattan
St. Peter's Church
619 Lexington Avenue at 54th Street, New York City
Houses a chapel full of Nevelson's works
|Cubism was developed by Pablo Picasso and Georges Braque between 1907-1911, and it continued to be highly influential long after its decline. This classic phase has two stages: 'Analytic', in which forms seem to be 'analyzed' and fragmented; and 'Synthetic', in which pre-existing materials such as newspaper and wood veneer are collaged to the surface of the canvas.
ArtStory: Cubism Page
|German-born American painter, art teacher and theorist. Hofmann matured as an artist in 1904-14 in Paris, where he met many of the greatest artists of that time. After he emigrated to America in the early 1930s he enjoyed a prominent career as a teacher, powerfully influencing many Abstract Expressionists with his understanding of European modernism.
ArtStory: Hans Hofmann Page
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ArtStory: Jackson Pollock Page
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ArtStory: Diego Rivera Page
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ArtStory: Max Ernst Page
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ArtStory: Alexander Calder Page
|Linda Nochlin is an art historian and critic who launched feminist art history with her groundbreaking essay, "Why Have There Been No Great Women Artists?"
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ArtStory: David Smith Page
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ArtStory: Mark Rothko Page
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ArtStory: Willem De Kooning Page
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ArtStory: Dada Page
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ArtStory: Surrealism Page
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ArtStory: Abstract Expressionism Page
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ArtStory: Minimalism Page
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