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Louise Nevelson, Cascade VII, 1979, wood painted black. 8' 6" x 10' 7" x 1' 4" (259.1 cm x 322.6 cm x 40.6 cm), 9 elements plus base, 10 parts total © 2019 Estate of Louise Nevelson / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York

Louise Nevelson

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b. 1899, Kiev
d. 1988, New York

Louise Nevelson, a leading sculptor of the twentieth century, pioneered site-specific and installation art with her monochromatic wood sculptures made of box-like structures and nested objects.

Nevelson emigrated with her family from czarist Russia to the United States in 1905, settling in Rockland, Maine. By 1920, she had moved to New York City, where she studied drama and later enrolled at the Art Students League. Throughout the early 1930s, Nevelson traveled across Europe and briefly attended Hans Hofmann’s school in Munich, returning to New York in 1932 where she studied once again with Hofmann.

Nevelson participated in several group shows throughout the 1930s, the first of which was organized by the Secession Gallery and held at the Brooklyn Museum in 1935. She received her first one-person exhibition at the Nierendorf Gallery, New York, in 1941—the first of several with the gallery throughout a decade punctuated by travels to Europe, explorations in printmaking, and work at the Sculpture Center in New York. By the late 1940s and early 1950s, Nevelson had traveled to Guatemala and Mexico to view Pre-Colombian art and began to produce a series of wood landscape sculptures.

An interest in shadow and space materialized in her first all-black sculptures, introducing a visual language that came to characterize much of her work from the mid-1950s onward. This development was encouraged in the form of acquisitions from three New York museums. In 1956, the Whitney Museum of American Art acquired Black Majesty (1955) and the following year the Brooklyn Museum acquired First Personage (1956). Soon thereafter, the Museum of Modern Art acquired Sky Cathedral (1958), further championing her work with the inclusion of Dawn’s Wedding Feast (1959) in the seminal group exhibition Sixteen Americans (1959–60). Nevelson had her first exhibition with The Pace Gallery, Boston, in 1961. Her representation was underscored by a brief affiliation Sidney Janis Gallery, New York, in 1962, which positioned her as the first sculptor and first female Abstract Expressionist within Janis’s roster and was followed representation by Pace in 1963 to the present. In 2018, the exhibition The Face in the Moon, was mounted at the Whitney Museum of American Art, New York, focusing on her work in drawing, printing, and collage, and spanning her progression from the human body into abstraction.

Nevelson’s compositions explore the relational possibilities of sculpture and space, summing up the objectification of the external world into a personal landscape. Although her practice is situated in lineage with Picasso’s Cubism and Vladimir Tatlin’s Constructivism, the pictorial attitude of her work and her interest in the transcendence of object and space reveal an affinity with Abstract Expressionism.

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Louise Nevelson, Dawn's Staff, 1969-1975, wood painted white, 104" × 17" × 5" (264.2 cm × 43.2 cm × 12.7 cm) © 2019 Estate of Louise Nevelson / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York

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Louise Nevelson, Untitled, 1976-78, wood painted black, 86-1/4" x 43-1/2" x 5" (219.1 cm x 110.5 cm x 12.7 cm) © 2019 Estate of Louise Nevelson / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York