Published: April 17, 2007
The Jewish Museum will present “The Sculpture of Louise Nevelson: Constructing a Legend,” the first major American survey of her work since 1980, from May 5 through September 16. Sixty-six works will be on view, including sculpture, drawings and two room-size masterworks.
Louise Nevelson (1899-1988) was a towering figure in postwar American art, exerting great influence with her monumental installations, innovative sculpture made of found wood objects and celebrated public art. She was recognized during her lifetime as one of America’s most distinguished artists, and her work continues to inspire contemporary sculptors today. The exhibition focuses on all phases of Nevelson’s career and demonstrates how her life story was a force that propelled her work. Following its New York City showing at The Jewish Museum, the exhibition will travel to San Francisco, Calif., where it will be on view at the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco, de Young from October 27 through January 13, 2008.
Exhibition visitors will see works from international and national collections, dating from 1928 to 1988, including abstract self-portraits; a re-creation of “Dawn’s Wedding Feast” (1959), the white installation Nevelson constructed specifically for an influential Museum of Modern Art show; and Nevelson’s culminating environment, “Mrs N’s Palace” (1964-1977), a black sculpture evoking a house with a mirrored floor. “Dawn’s Wedding Feast” is being specially reassembled with loans from 12 museums and private collections, such as the Art Institute of Chicago, The Menil Collection, The Museum of Modern Art, the Walker Art Center, and the Whitney Museum of American Art, among others. Also on view will be a vast sculpture that memorialized the Holocaust, “Homage to 6,000,000 I” (1964), a loan from the Osaka City Museum of Modern Art in Japan. This black work is a key example of a Nevelson “wall” in which the artist filled stacked wooden crates with her signature medium, found objects. A video featuring interviews with six contemporary artists inspired by Nevelson and archival film footage of the artist from the 1960s and 1970s will run at the exhibition’s conclusion.
After an early period of creating small-scale objects, Nevelson’s breakthrough works †environments in wood †were critically hailed in the late 1950s. She infused abstract art with her personal story †the epic Jewish migration to the United States between the 1880s and the 1920s, her narrative as a woman artist and her involvement in American modernism †which functioned as an indelible source for her vast body of work.
Nevelson’s unique contribution to American modernism was to create art from cast-off wood parts, actual street throwaways, and transform them with monochromatic spray paint. Beginning in the 1940s and continuing through the 1980s, Nevelson’s sculpture developed from tabletop pieces to human-scale columns to room-size walls and ultimately installation and public art that competed with the monumentality of their architectural surroundings.
Nevelson arrived in America from the Ukraine in 1905. She witnessed exceptional historical events of the Twentieth Century, and was similarly mindful of the sweeping changes in American art, forging a distinct visual language that earned her the title “grande dame of contemporary sculpture.” Nevelson’s breakout sculpture and prominent public commissions, as well as her acclaimed museum exhibitions and frequent critical attention, were at times overwhelmed by her outsize public persona distinguished by ethnographic garb and couture, fanciful headgear, massive neckwear and an imposing set of multilayered false eyelashes.
Establishing herself as a woman artist in a male-dominated art world was complicated and difficult. Rather than champion her role as a woman artist, Nevelson preferred to focus on the work itself, eschewing labels throughout her life. Indeed, her work is not easily allied with any one movement, though it has been variously linked to Cubism, Dada, Surrealism, Abstract Expressionism, Minimalism, feminism and installation art.
In conjunction with the exhibition, The Jewish Museum and Yale University Press are co-publishing the most extensive study of Nevelson to be published in more than 25 years. The 256-page volume, containing 140 color and 37 black-and-white illustrations, will sell for $40 (softcover) and $55 (hardcover).
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