Louise Nevelson: Total Life
Opening 24 June 2021
40 Albemarle Street, London
Louise Nevelson: Total Life presents a selection of art created by Nevelson throughout her career, exhibiting key examples of her sculptural reliefs and collages from the 1950s through the 1980s, along with works on paper and jewelry that reveal the origins and depth of her artistic vision.
Nevelson is celebrated for the innovative assemblages that she composed with pieces of wood from furniture and architectural remnants that she found on the streets around her New York studio. Maintaining something of her chosen material’s prior history—as carpentered boards, cut disks, turned spindles, and hewn wood beams—Nevelson transformed disparate, cumulative elements into unified compositions that extend planar structures into three-dimensional space. Nevelson further defined her sculpture by painting them a single monochromatic tone, highlighting her manipulation of form through emphasis on the dynamic play of surface, light, and shadow. In painting her works black, white, or gold, she claimed that she was “going back to the elements: shadows, light, the sun, the moon.” Visually and physically compelling, each work operates like a cabinet of curiosities that evokes poetic associations with the cosmos and primordial mysteries.
The grouping of works in Total Life reveals the aesthetic sophistication of Nevelson’s play of form and meaning. Ancient Secrets II (1964) exemplifies the simultaneity of order and variety in her work, with a regular grid that houses smaller squares that vary in their placement and texture, inviting curiosity and wonder. Nevelson began painting her sculptures black in the mid-1950s, and it remained her signature hue throughout her career, as she regarded black as a culmination of all color. It was therefore a surprise to her viewers when she introduced sculptures painted in a monochromatic white in 1959 at the pivotal Sixteen Americans exhibition at the Museum of Modern Art. There, she presented Dawn’s Wedding Feast, an environmental installation of monochromatic white with matrimonial and cosmic themes. A highlight of Total Life is the white Dawn’s Host (1959), an unusual circular relief that sits on a rounded support and connotes the light of early morning and the form of the sun. The Golden Pearl (1962) is painted in gold, a hue that Nevelson introduced the year prior and which she associated with spirituality. Literally radiant, she used the depth of this work to develop a complex composition with decorative moldings and other volumetric objects layered into striking variations of texture and space.
Also featured are Nevelson’s collages, which significantly parallel her wooden sculptures but which have not until recently been widely exhibited and understood as a vital aspect of her oeuvre. Subdued in color but not generally monochromatic, their scale and varied materials—which include colored paper and newspaper, cardboard, paint, foil, and wood—gave the artist the ability to work with greater intimacy and spontaneity. Providing another example of the breadth of Nevelson’s oeuvre in Total Life are works on paper from her earliest career—abstracted nudes that the artist drew in the 1930s, soon after she studied with Hans Hofmann in Munich and returned to New York to assist Diego Rivera with his Man at the Crossroads mural at Rockefeller Plaza. Jewelry that Nevelson created throughout her career will also be on exhibit, embodying a totality of her creativity and aesthetic approach.