Mothers of Invention: Louise Nevelson

Originally published March 6, 2018

The great one

"We learned the artist is a woman, in time to check our enthusiasm. Had it been otherwise, we might have hailed these sculptural expressions as by surely a great figure among moderns. See them by all means--painted plaster figures and continuous-line drawings that take much knowledge from Picasso and from Mayan and Indian expressions. I suspect that artist is clowning--but what excellent equipment artistically."

--Cue, October 4, 1941

In the front gallery of Pace on 24th Street

Louise Nevelson: Black and White took place at Pace Gallery on 24th Street recently. The lights were dim in the main gallery, whose walls were painted dark gray. This is how Nevelson had envisioned and presented an early show of her work. The eyes needed time to acclimate, and the camera did its best to capture what it saw as I photographed around the visitors.

Entering main gallery: Sculptures from the Fifties, Sixties, and Seventies

The sculpture at left is shown frontally in the image below

Untitled, late 1970s. wood painted black, 9'11" x 11'10" x 1'11"

Panning around the gallery

Foreground: Colonne II, 1959, wood painted black, 9 feet by 20 inches by 20 inches

Against the back wall: Untitled, late 1970s, wood painted black, 8'7" x 8' 4" x 1'6"

High on wall: Black Moon, 1961, black painted wood, 40 x 40 x 3.5 inches

This work was against the third wall in the gallery: Untitled (Sky Cathedral), 1964, wood painted black, 8'4" x 11' x 1'7"

Detail below

Another gallery held these dramatic white sculptures, set against the same dark gray walls

Dawn's Presence-Three, 1975, wood painted white, 123 x 127 x 99 inches

Foreground: Detail of Dawn's Presence-Three; back wall: Floating Cloud V, 1977, painted wood, 30 x 28 x 10 inches

Panoramic view looking toward the frontmost gallery with viewers for scale and contrast

In the front gallery two walls contained a museum-like timeline from Nevelson's birth in Kiev in 1899 through her childhood in Maine, to her long career in New York City, and then her death here in 1988, just shy of the century mark

As the list of her achievements grew, photos depicted an ever-more-dramatic Nevelson swathed in layers of sumptuous fabrics, furs, head scarfs--with her signature eyelashes

Despite the drama, there was the ever-present thumb on her early effort, as noted in the text above (from which I took the words that open this post). Still she persisted, and by 1962 she represented the United States at the Venice Biennale. Though noted for her monochromatic Constructivist assemblages in wood, during her long career Nevelson worked in a range of mediums: bronze, clay, even plexiglass.

A karmic P.S. to close this post:

We have no idea who wrote that petty review, but the work of Louise Nevelson lives on

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