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Louise Nevelson

Image of Louise Nevelson

Photo Credit: © Lynn Gilbert

Remarks: Louise Nevelson 1976

Louise Nevelson

American, (1899–1988)
Self-taught; Art Students League, Hofmann School (Munich)
Great Neck Long Island Adult Education, Tamarind Institute, Area Arts Foundation

Louise Nevelson was an artist best known for her assemblages of found wooden objects placed in boxes and painted all one color, typically black. Nevelson received many awards and recognitions later in her career. Today, her work is held in many private and public collections all over the world. She was also known for her sense of style and used dressing herself as another way of creating assemblages as she boldly layered her clothes and accessories.

Nevelson was born in Pereiaslav, Ukraine in 1899. When she was five years old her family moved to Maine where her father worked in housing construction. Nevelson realized she enjoyed creating visual art early in life thanks to art classes in elementary school and began drawing and painting. During her childhood she also collected bits and bobs, a habit she picked up from her father, for their shapes and sizes. Additionally during this time, Nevelson’s fashionable mother influenced her interest in appearance by displaying the possibilities of expression through dressing the children in the finest clothes.

In 1920 Louise married Charles Nevelson and moved to New York City where she started spending time around professional artists and learning from them. For example, from 1929 to 1930, she studied at the Art Students League with Kenneth Hayes Miller whose interest in the sculptural qualities of paintings influenced Nevelson’s own work. In 1931 and 1932, Nevelson studied with Hans Hoffman who taught her more about cubism. She studied sculpture with Chaim Gross at the Educational Alliance Art School in New York in 1934. Like other artists during the economic depression of the 1930s she worked under the Works Progress Administration, in her case teaching art. She would go on to teach art again at multiple different times in her life.

With a deteriorating marriage, Nevelson’s clash with the demands of motherhood of that era intensified as she attempted to balance parenting with pursuing her own dreams. Ultimately, she began leaving her son with her parents from time to time so she could study art and pursue it as a career. Though they kept in touch through letters when they were apart, she struggled with guilt for years. However, her positive influence on her son Mike was apparent when he later went on to create his own wooden sculptures.

As Nevelson searched for her artistic style, she likely struggled with depression which influenced her art. Furthermore, she was again influenced by artists, particularly those who created abstract art, when many came to New York to escape the Nazis’ violence in Europe. It was in the early 1940s that Nevelson began using found wooden objects in her art. Nevelson had her first solo exhibition in 1941 at the Nierendorf Gallery in New York. In 1942, she received good reviews for another show, but she still was not making money from her art and relied on financial help from her family. Nevelson’s delay in being taken seriously in the art world was in part due to her being a woman in a field historically dominated by men. Despite this, she embraced femininity and viewed her work as delicate. She would not use the same tools as men, instead often cutting wood with scissors.

Around 1956, Nevelson started putting her found wooden objects in enclosures and boxes and soon began stacking her boxed sculptures all together. In a way she had become a builder like her father. Within a couple of years, museums and collectors finally began to seek out her work, and she started making money from her art. In 1959, Nevelson surprised audiences by creating an all-white show, Dawn’s Wedding Feast, for the Museum of Modern Art. She worked in white for a while and then gold before returning to black. Nevelson also experimented with ceramics, Plexiglas, and metals during her career. Additionally, she had an interest in the performing arts studying dramatics and modern dance. Nevelson continued creating art in a variety of forms up until her passing in 1988.

[Source: Museum Staff with edits by the artist’s granddaughter Maria Nevelson]

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