Louise Nevelson, photo Pedro E. Guerrero

Louise Nevelson /   Leah Berliawsky

Ukraine 1899 - 1988



Louise Nevelson
Leah Berliawsky
February 6, 2015
Music, Gestalt, .

One of the most prominent American female sculptors of the 20th century, Louise Nevelson emerged in the art world during the dominance of Abstract Expressionism. Incorporating the wooden objects found at the urban debris piles into her most iconic works, she created the monumental installations that resembled the most Marcel Duchamp’s readymades. The main characteristic of her work is that her subject matter includes her personal feelings about an unrooted childhood when she had to leave The Soviet Union and move to America, the clashing cultures and nature’s magnificence. Carefully selected and arranged rejected objects get the new meaning and form a narrative context. During her career, Nevelson developed the affinity toward new materials and her later sculptures, mostly intended for outdoor environments had a more geometric form and were made of industrial materials as Cor-Ten steel.

Louise Nevelson - Night Zag Wall, 1974, photo via svartscene2013blogspotcom robert american untitled city robert black sculptures painted white museum modern
Louise Nevelson – Night Zag Wall, 1974, photo via svartscene2013.blogspot.com

Traumatic Childhood that Left an Indelible Mark

Born as Leah Berliawsky on September 23, 1899, in Kiev, Ukraine, Nevelson spent her childhood up in Rockland, Maine, after arriving in the United States at a young age because of the Jewish origins of her family. Living with the parents with the progressive views (her father was a lawyer who fought for women’s rights and mother was also a freethinker), she always knew that she wants to be an artist. In 1920, Nevelson changed her name and moved with her husband to New York city. Eleven years later she separated from her husband and in 1932 traveled to Europe to study, but returned to America as the political situation in Germany worsened. Enrolling the sculpture at the Art Students League, an art school where Jackson Pollock and other Abstract Expressionists studied, during the time, her reputation started to grow.

Nevelson always knew that she wants to be an artist

Louise Nevelson - Royal Tide IV, 1970, photo via studyblue.com american painted white museum modern untitled black sculptures
Louise Nevelson – Royal Tide IV, 1970, photo via studyblue.com

Success and Recognitions

Employed by the Works Progress Administration, Nevelson assisted Diego Rivera on his mural Portrait of America. In the 40’s she began to experiment with various media, using the wood and junk she found on the streets of New York and creating the assemblages of it. Changing the style too, her palette became monochrome, with the domination of the black paint. In the late 50’s her works were featured at the Museum of Modern art, and later on, she became more and more successful when other big museums and collectors recognized her talent. Throughout 70’s and 80’s Nevelson created several large installations among which is the most famous imprint on New York – The Louise Nevelson Plaza in lower Manhattan.

She was using the junk and wood found on the streets of New York

Louise Nevelson - Untitled, 1985, image courtesy of Pace Gallery american city painted white museum modern robert untitled black sculptures
Louise Nevelson – Untitled, 1985, image courtesy of Pace Gallery

Passionate Sculptor until the Very End

Nevelson was an extravagant person, standing out with her glamorous gowns, heavy face makeup and unconventional hairstyles. But essentially, she lived simply and worked into her 80’s, never hesitating from a challenge. She distinguished as a successful female figure in a stereotypical male sculptor’s profession and her work inspired numerous young artists, primarily those involved in installation art and Feminist movements. Louise Nevelson passed away of natural causes, on April 17, 1988, in New York. Just before she died, she had finished a 35-foot sculpture installed at the National Institutes of Health in Bethesda, Maryland.

Featured image: Louise Nevelson, photo copyright Pedro E. Guerrero
All images used for illustrative purposes only

Year Exhibition TitleGallery/MuseumSolo/Group
2016Louise NevelsonPace LondonSolo
2016Louise NevelsonFondazione Marconi moderna e contemporanea, MilanSolo
2015Louise Nevelson: My WorldBaker Museum, Artis—Naples, FloridaSolo
2015Louise Nevelson: Collage and AssemblagePace Gallery, New YorkSolo
2015Louise Nevelson In L.A.: Tamarind Workshop Lithographs From the 1960sLos Angeles County Museum of ArtSolo
2014Louise Nevelson 55–70Cardi Gallery, MilanSolo
2014Louise Nevelson: Sculptures, Drawings, CollagesDie Galerie, FrankfurtSolo
2013Midnight Party Walker Art Center, Minneapolis, USAGroup
2013Louise Nevelson: Black Davis Museum at Wellesley College, Wellesley, USAGroup
2012Selections From The Estate: 1954-1987 Timothy Yarger Fine Art, Beverly Hills, USAGroup
2012Louise Nevelson Locks Gallery, Philadelphia, USAGroup
2011Louise Nevelson 1899 – 1988 The Architect of Shadow, Artiscope, Brussels, BelgiumGroup
2011Louise Nevelson: Collages Pace Prints, New York, USAGroup
2011Rediscoveries 1 Colby College Museum of Art, Waterville, USAGroup
2011Louise Nevelson Alan Avery Art Company, Atlanta, USAGroup
2010Louise Nevelson Farnsworth Art Museum, Rockland, USAGroup
2010Advancing Abstraction in Modern Sculpture Baltimore Museum of Art, Baltimore, USAGroup
2010Louise Nevelson Galerie Thomas, Munich, Germany (solo)Group
2009Louise Nevelson: Dawns and Dusks Louise Blouin Foundation, London, England Solo
2009Louise Nevelson: Dawns and Dusks Pace Gallery, New York, USAGroup
2009Louise Nevelson: Collages Galleria Il Ponte, Florence, Italy (solo)Group
2009The Pull of Experiment: Postwar American Printmaking Yale University Art Gallery, New Haven, USAGroup
2008Jesuvian Process Elizabeth Dee Gallery, New York, USAGroup
2008Doppio Songo Dell' Arte (Art's Double Dream)Indianapolis Museum of Contemporary Art, Indianapolis, USAGroup
2007De-Natured: Works from the Anderson Collection San Jose Museum of Art, San Jose, USAGroup
2007The Sculpture of Louise Nevelson The Jewish Museum, New York, USA; travelled to de Young Museum, San Francisco, USA Solo
2007Light Time and Three Dimensions Pace Gallery, New York, USAGroup
2006Louise Nevelson: Small Works Locks Gallery, Philadelphia, USA (solo)Group
2006Louise Nevelson: The Architecture of the Light Nohra Haime Gallery, New York, USA Solo
2005Continuum: 130th Anniversary of the Art Students League of New York ACA Galleries, New York, USAGroup
2005Collecting for the Cause: Activist Art in the 1960s and '70s Smart Museum of Art, Chicago, USAGroup
2005Louise Nevelson: Ceramics and Sculpture Greenfield Sacks Gallery, Santa Monica, USA Solo
2004Louise Nevelson Hackett Freedman Gallery, San Francisco, USASolo
2004Picasso to Pop: A Growing Contemporary Collection Phoenix Art Museum, Phoenix, USAGroup
2003Louise Nevelson: Selections from the Farnsworth Art Museum Heckscher Museum of Art, Huntington, USAGroup
2003Going Modern at the Allen: American Painting and Sculpture 1950-1980 The Allen Memorial Art Museum, Oberlin, USAGroup
2003Imagine: Selections from the permanent collection Museum of Contemporary Art, North Miami, USAGroup
2002True Grit: Seven Female Visionaries Before Feminism Boise Art Museum, Boise, USAGroup
2002Louise Nevelson: Structures Evolving Samuel P. Harn Museum of Art, Gainesville, USAGroup
2001Louise NevelsonGalerie Marwan Hoss, Paris, FranceSolo
2001Points of Departure II: Connecting with Contemporary Art San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, San Francisco, USAGroup
1999Drawings Greenfield Sacks Gallery, Santa Monica, USAGroup
1999Louise Nevelson Sculpture and Collages, Baldwin Gallery, Aspen, USAGroup
1998The 60s in the Seventies Ubu Gallery, New York, USAGroup
1998Louise Nevelson: Sculpture and Drawings from the 1940s Washburn Gallery, New York, USA (solo)Group
1997Assemblage: More Than Meets The Eye Choate House Gallery, Pace University, Pleasantville, USAGroup
1997Louise NevelsonRichard Gray Gallery, Chicago, USASolo
1994The Box: From Duchamp to Horn Ubu Gallery, New York, USAGroup
1994Louise Nevelson Palazzo delle Esposizioni, Rome, Italy (solo)Group
199110 Sculptors of the New York School Manny Silverman Gallery, Los Angeles, USAGroup
1986Louise Nevelson Michel Soskine Inc., New York, USA (solo)Group
1983Nuclear Weapons Freeze Benefit ExhibitUnknownGroup