Louise Nevelson was an iconic and vital figure in post-war New York, regarded for her groundbreaking sculptural environments as much as her persona, which was captured in memorable photographs by Cecil Beaton.
Nevelson created her first assemblages in the mid-1950s, and quickly made an impact in the New York art scene with her pioneering approach to sculpture. Inspired by Cubism, Nevelson took scraps of wood and other materials found on the street near her studio and assembled them into free-standing and wall-mounted sculpture that she would paint a solid colour—most famously, black or white.
Nevelson’s sculptures range from small assemblages to free-standing columns and monumental wall-based works consisting of multiple small compartments. Although the physical form of the scraps remains unchanged in her work, Nevelson subsumes them in an entire system, creating a unified whole from disparate parts. She insisted on the psychological and expressive virtue of her work, which was illustrative of a highly personal cosmology rooted in light and shadow.
The artist’s early collages, produced at a smaller size than most of her sculptures, provide important insight into her thinking and working process and the importance of wood in her work. Mostly unpainted, the collages reveal Nevelson’s use of raw materials, demonstrating an organisational logic that continues in her larger work as well.
In addition to Nevelson’s iconic black monochrome sculptures, the exhibition will also include steel maquettes Nevelson produced for public sculptures, now exhibited in Chicago and at Harvard University. These works, intended to be seen in the round, exemplify the heightened architectural quality of her work in the later decades of her career.
The exhibition coincides with Pace New York’s presentation of Blackness in Abstraction, a major exhibition organised by Adrienne Edwards, a curator at Performa and curator-at-large at the Walker Art Center. The exhibition considers the eponymous theme, treating Nevelson and her expressive treatment of black as a historic anchor for subsequent generations of artists.