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Louise Nevelson

September 23, 1899 - April 17, 1988


Louise Nevelson was a pioneering American artist at a time when few women were recognized in the art world, or had works exhibited at, or acquired by museums. She developed large-scale wooden monochrome sculptures, usually in either white or black and later in gold, starting in the 1950s—these works are what she is known for. The assemblages often contain multiple compartments filled with found objects of different wood shapes. These disparate elements are united by one color and sometimes take the form of a wall.

Born 1899 in Ukraine near Kyiv, Nevelson’s family emigrated to the United States in 1905. She knew that she wanted to be an artist at an early age, and by the early 1930s she was in New York, studying at the Art Student League. She worked for the Federal Art Project of the Works Progress Administration (WPA), studied with Hans Hofmann in Munich in the 1930s, and taught art. She created small sculptures, painting, etchings, and drawings at this time. In 1948 she made the first of two trips to Mexico and the monumental Mayan art and architecture changed her artistic direction and inspired her large work, sometimes room-sized, long before there was a name for installation art. Museums internationally started to acquire her work in the 1950s and in 1967, she had her first retrospective at the Whitney Museum of American Art.

Later projects included a fellowship with Tamarind Lithography Workshop (now Tamarind Institute) which brought Nevelson back to printmaking. Always improvising, she utilized unusual materials such as lace and cheese cloth to create her prints. Nevelson’s dramatic fashion style made her an instantly recognizable icon, often wearing asymmetric jewelry she assembled from wood. Jewish synagogues as well as St. Peter’s Lutheran Church in Manhattan commissioned environments for their sacred spaces, recognizing the spirituality inherent in her art. Nevelson challenged the assumptions of what women artists create, what materials they choose to create with, and she fiercely found her place in a man’s world.

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