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The Sculpture of Louise Nevelson: Constructing a Legend
May 5 - September 16, 2007
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 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, 2007. Sixty-six works will be on view including sculpture, drawings and two room-size masterworks. 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 Sculpture of Louise Nevelson: Constructing a Legend will travel to San Francisco, California where it will be on view at the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco, de Young from October 27, 2007 through January 13, 2008. (left: Louise Nevelson in the living room of her Spring Street home, New York, 1979. Photograph by Diana MacKown.)
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 twelve 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.
The Sculpture of Louise Nevelson: Constructing a Legend has been organized for The Jewish Museum by guest curator Brooke Kamin Rapaport, an independent curator and writer. Gabriel de Guzman, Curatorial Program Coordinator at The Jewish Museum, is the project coordinator.
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.
Louise 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. "Contemporary sculpture and installation-based art owe a considerable debt to Louise Nevelson's aesthetic risk taking," guest curator Brooke Kamin Rapaport, said. "For a new generation, the opportunity to view her work as it progressed from early trials in terracotta and bronze to wood fragment constructions to grand environments will be revelatory. For those who know of her contribution, this exhibition will provide an opportunity to reassess and confirm Nevelson's lifelong achievement," she added.
The Jewish Museum, in association with Antenna Audio, has produced an audio guide for The Sculpture of Louise Nevelson: Constructing a Legend. Commentary is provided by Ms. Rapaport; renowned playwright Edward Albee, a friend of Nevelson's; the artist's long-term studio assistant Diana MacKown; and Nevelson's granddaughter Maria Nevelson. The audio guide is sponsored by Bloomberg.
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 over twenty-five years. This lavishly illustrated book focuses on all phases of the artist's remarkable ascent to the top of the art world, from her modernist-derived drawings of the 1920s and 1930s to her groundbreaking wood sculpture of the 1940s to large projects of the 1950s through the 1980s. In addition, it demonstrates how Nevelson's flamboyant personal style and carefully cultivated persona enhanced her reputation as an artist of the first rank. The 256-page volume, containing 140 color and 37 black-and-white illustrations, is edited by Brooke Kamin Rapaport, who has contributed a major essay. It also includes essays by noted scholars Arthur C. Danto, Harriet F. Senie, and Michael Stanislawski. Gabriel de Guzman has provided an illustrated chronology. The essays examine the role of monochromatic color in Nevelson's painted wooden sculpture; the art-historical context of her work; her acclaimed large-scale commissioned public artworks; and her "self-fashioning" as a celebrated artist, particularly her origins as a Ukrainian-born Jewish immigrant to the United States.
The exhibition was designed by Tod Williams Billie Tsien Architects, a New York firm.
(above: Louise Nevelson, Bride and Disk and Groom and Disk, 1959-67, from America-Dawn, 1962, originally from Dawn's Wedding Feast, 1959, painted wood. The Art Institute of Chicago, Grant J. Pick Purchase Fund, 1967.387. © Estate of Louise Nevelson / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York. Photograph by Robert Hashimoto. Photography © The Art Institute of Chicago.)
(above: Louise Nevelson, Case with Five Balusters, from Dawn's Wedding Feast, 1959, wood, paint, 27 5/8 x 63 5/8 x 9 _ inches. Collection Walker Art Center, Minneapolis. Gift of Mr. and Mrs. Peter M. Butler, 1983, 1983.214. © Estate of Louise Nevelson / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York.)
(above: Louise Nevelson, Dawn's Wedding Chapel IV, from Dawn's Wedding Feast, 1959-60, painted wood, 109 x 87 x 13 _ inches. Courtesy PaceWildenstein, New York. © Estate of Louise Nevelson / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York.)
(above: Louise Nevelson, Royal Tide I, 1960, painted wood, 86 x 40 x 8 inches. Collection of Peter and Beverly Lipman. © Estate of Louise Nevelson / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York. Photo by Sheldan C. Collins.)
(above: Louise Nevelson, Self-Portrait: Silent Music IV, 1964, wood painted black, 90 x 65 _ x 18 in. (229 x 166.5 x 46 cm). Hyogo Prefectural Museum of Art, Japan. © Estate of Louise Nevelson / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York.)
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