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 Louise Berliawsky Nevelson  (1899 - 1988)

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About: Louise Berliawsky Nevelson


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Lived/Active: New York / Russian Federation      Known for: cubist wood assemblage

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Ad Code: 1
Louise Nevelson
from Auction House Records.
SKY CATHEDRAL (30 parts)
© 2001 Estate of Louise Nevelson /Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York
This biography from the Archives of AskART:
Creator of wood assemblages made from found objects and parts of furniture doused in black paint, Louise Nevelson became the darling of the New York art world, especially during the last three decades of her life when her success was assured.  She cultivated an artistic image, was thin and draped clothes haphazardly on her figure, smoked small cigars, and wore exceedingly long, fake eyelashes.

She was born Louise Berliawsky in Kiev, Russia, and at age five, moved with her family to Rockland, Maine where her father ran a lumber yard.  In a town that was mostly Protestant, middle class, white people, she felt out of place as a Jew and an immigrant.  In 1920, she moved to New York, studied at the Art Students League with Kenneth Hayes Miller, and married Charles Nevelson, whose "WASP" family she regarded as terribly stuffy.  They had a son, and when he was nine years old, she went to Munich to study, separating from her husband and leaving her son for several years with her parents.

In Germany, she studied with Hans Hoffman until the Nazis drove him away, and then she studied in Paris before returning to America to raise her son and pursue her art career.  From 1932 to 1933, she was in Mexico as an assistant to muralist Diego Rivera.  In 1941, she had her first one-woman show, which was held at the Nierendorf Gallery in New York, but her break through did not come until 1957, when she began her box-like assemblages and received much critical acclaim.

In 1959, Louise Nevelson was one of "Sixteen Americans" in an important Museum of Modern Art exhibition.  In the mid 1960s, she began welding found objects to welded steel, and directed a team of workers to make her black painted sculptures. For her, the color black symbolized harmony and continuity.

She also held several teaching positions including at the Educational Alliance in New York City; the Adult Education Program in Great Neck, New York; and at the New York School for the Deaf.

Nevelson lived to age eighty nine, and was much pleased that her son, Mike, also became a successful sculptor.  In 1976, she wrote her autobiography, Dawns and Dusks, in which she credited her own determination for her success.  In recognition of that success, the U.S. government in 2000 issued special Louise Nevelson commemorative stamps, with five varieties, each with a photo of one of her monochrome sculptures.

Sources include:
Charlotte Streifer Rubinstein, American Women Artists
Marika Herskovic, American Abstract Expressionism of the 1950s

Biography from Hollis Taggart Galleries (Artists, E-O):
Acclaimed for her development of a unique sculptural vocabulary and process, Louise Nevelson remained committed to innovation, experimentation, and her own personal artistic style for over five decades. Working within tradition of assemblage, she crafted abstract three-dimensional boxes, walls, totems and environments, comprised mostly of assembled found materials. The artist discovered her raw materials while walking the streets of New York, drawing cast-off debris from curbsides, dumps, and demolition sites. The found objects incorporated in her sculptures range from architectural remnants such as chair legs and balusters to scrap construction pieces revealing the ravages of tools and time. Nevelson unites the disparate elements—remnants from our collective past and discarded memories—by painting her constructions in a single color, usually black or white. The effect is one of the play of shadows and the joys of subtle discoveries.

Nevelson was born in Kiev, Ukraine, in 1899, and her family immigrated to the Rockland, Maine, when she was two years old. When she was six years old, she found great amusement in playing with wood scraps from her father’s lumberyard; this early experimentation led her to announce, at the age of nine, her desire to become a sculptor. After marrying Charles Nevelson, in 1920 the artist settled in New York, where she studied drama, voice, modern dance, and art. From 1929 to 1930, she took classes at the Art Students League with Kenneth Hayes Miller. In 1931, she relocated to Munich, to study under the legendary instructor Hans Hofmann.

Her training encouraged her confidence, and after participating in several important group shows, in 1941 the artist received her first solo exhibition, at Nierendorf Gallery, New York. There she displayed an environment with overtones of a prehistoric cave, an Egyptian tomb and a well-designed store window, conjuring a real or imagined world or perhaps a vanished and unpopulated one. Five years later, she was included in an important exhibition of American sculpture at the Whitney Museum. During this period the sculptor’ star was ascendant, and her reputation was cemented in the 1950s. In particular, her 1959 exhibition of all-white sculptures, called "Dawn’s Wedding Feast," at the Museum of Modern Art, New York, drew critical acclaim, and the artist was lauded for developing a new sculptural mode. In 1962, the sculptor represented the United States at the prestigious Venice Biennale.

In the first decades of her career, Nevelson constructed all of her works. In 1960, she began to have boxes made especially for her, rather than relying only on found ones. These new boxes did not bear the signs of wear and use that her previous found crates and boxes yielded—instead, they were sleek and flawless. In this way, Nevelson’s newly constructed boxes reveal a dialogue with the minimal aesthetic of the mid-to-late 1960s.

In the 1960s and 1970s, Nevelson continued to work in her preferred color, black. Unlike many other colors, black does not have specific connotations or evoke specific symbolic associations; instead, according to the artist, it invites mystery, a quality that she values in her sculpture. As the color of shadows, it also allows Nevelson to investigate certain sculptural properties, such as space, relief, and light, in novel ways. As the sculptor once remarked, “I really deal with shadow and space….I identify with the shadow.”

During these decades, she also experimented with other colors and materials. Incorporating gold, Plexiglas, and steel into her compositions allowed for greater range of textures, scales, and visual effects. At the same time, she worked variously with different sizes—crafting intimate table-top pieces as well as fulfilling commissions for huge public works. Nevelson’s boxes, filled with reliefs, were sometimes even sealed with a hidden form inside, generating a sense of mystery and discovery. These boxes were displayed individually and also combined to form larger units, creating imposing constructions on an architectural scale. She worked in series, creating numerous iterations on a single theme before moving to a new one, often launching the next set of sculptures in a different scale or material. In this way, there is a continuity in Nevelson’s work from the 1950s onward, and yet she nonetheless continued to innovate until her death in 1988.

Her work has been collected by public institutions and private individuals over the course of her career and subsequently, and it appears in many of the world’s most esteemed museums, including the Museum of Modern Art, New York; the Whitney Museum of American Art; the Guggenheim Museum; the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston; the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston; the San Francisco MoMA; the Detroit Institute of Arts; the Israel Museum, Jerusalem; the National Galleries of Scotland; and the Tate Gallery, London. Even more importantly, she has served as an inspiration and role model to a generation of younger women artists.

© Copyright 2008 Hollis Taggart Galleries

Biography from Anita Shapolsky Gallery:
Louise Nevelson was born in Kiev, Russia.  Her family moved to the United States in 1905, and in 1920 she moved to New York City and began studying at the Art Students League in 1929.

Using old pieces of wood, found objects, she constructed huge walls, enclosed box arrangements of complex and rhythmic abstract shapes.  Examples of Nevelson's work are in 50 museums including the Whitney, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, and the Museum of Modern Art in New York.

Her first one-woman show was at the Karl Nierendorf Gallery in NYC in 1941.  She had solo exhibitions at the Norlyst and Nierendorf Galleries from 1943 to 1944.  In later years she studied printmaking and experimented with marble and terra-cotta.  Her fame came about from her show "Ancient Games and Ancient Places" at Grand Central Moderns.  This led to a series of wooden assemblages.

She is considered one of the most important American sculptors. Louise Nevelson died in 1988 at the age of 88.

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Louise Nevelson is also mentioned in these AskART essays:
Abstract Expressionism
Women Artists

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