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A History of Art for Amateurs: Louise Nevelson

A feminist icon, trendsetting fashionista and upcycling pioneer, known for her muscular multi-layered sculptures

An art novice guides you through an Art Education. The objective of these pieces is to encourage our readers to do their own research, seek out more information about the artists they like and to discover different facets of art history along with the Red Bag Team

Atmosphere and Environment XII

One of my pet peeves is not understanding a reference in a book. Before the Internet, I would scurry to the dictionary or  keep elaborate notebooks of references I knew nothing about. Now I whip out my phone and type into Google. This summer, while reading the excellent Where Did You Go, Bernadette, I came across a reference to “airport hangars” designed by Louise Nevelson, and I just had to know more.

 

am a woman’s liberation.

Just look at her! This is a woman who knows Drama-  from her carefully selected hair styles and scarves, to her striking false eyelashes- everything about Louise Nevelson makes a statement. And her life story reflects that. Born Leah Berliawsky in Kiev, Russia, Louise immigrated to America when she was 16 with her family.  During her long and complicated journey towards becoming an sculptor- she collaborated with luminaries as diverse as Diego Rivera and Hans Hoffman, studied dramatics and voice, and acted as an extra in German movies.  It was only at the age of 52 that she had her first solo exhibition and her first outdoor work was commissioned when she was in her early 70’s. She first gained fame for her complex wood sculptures (created entirely with ‘found objects’ and driftwoods ) but also produced sculptors in metal, fibreglass and even designed costumes for an opera !  She was the subject of an Edward Albee play soon after her death, and has continued to inspire sculptors and designers and feminists to date.

When I fell in love with black, it contained all color. It wasn’t a negation of color. It was an acceptance. Because black encompasses all colors. Black is the most aristocratic color of all. … You can be quiet and it contains the whole thing

In Sky Cathedral Nevelson first creates a distinct structure of open boxes and then fills them with a combination of found and created objects including spindles, pieces of a chair and moulding (among other things, in some ways Nevelson was the pioneer of the upcycling trend that urban do-gooders wax eloquently about today).  She then paints the entire structure in black  (black, and occasionally white being her monochromatic statements of choice) bringing all of its disparate elements together. If you look long enough you can both the silhouettes of the original objects and also a new layered structure that seems to be telling it’s own brocade of overlapping stories.

The greatest thing we have is the awareness of the mind. There we can build mansions. There we have all the things that are not given to us on earth.

Her seminal work Dawn’s Wedding Feast  uses her trademark Cubist abstract wooden sculptures (this time in a pristine white) to reimagine a bride, a groom, wedding guests, the columns of a chapel and even the wedding cake!

I never feel age… If you have creative work, you don’t have age or time

Louise Nevelson did her first commissioned outdoors art project for the Princeton University when she was more than 70 years old. The American landscape is now dotted by these monumental pieces that resemble industrial trees and plants produced in materials such as aluminium and cort-ten steel. The pieces are created to be at once one with their surrounding and to stand out from them. These are ‘public installations’ in the true sense of the word- challenging dozens of amateur photographers daily to find a new angle, a new juxtaposition with the surrounding, a new reflection in natural light and to read more into it.

To find out more about Louise Nevelson’s art, we suggest the following resources:

1. The excellent and comprehensive Louise Nevelson Foundation website – is a great resource if you want to know more about her life, work and inspirations

2. This amazing video with talking heads including her grand daughter Maria Nevelson tells you a little bit more about her philosophy. (Our favourite bit: “.. She was this hard drinking hard living woman who didn’t want to be dragged down by all these perceived supposed  oldfashioned stereotypes..”    and … “she was her own Goddess”)

3. And if you want to make your own three-dimensional category defying masterpiece like Louise Nevelson, then try this excellent step by step guide!

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