An icon of feminist art who ‘didn’t believe in labels’

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Louise Nevelson

April 17, On This Day

Making monumental, monochromatic works

Louise Nevelson

Known for her monumental, monochromatic, wooden wall pieces and outdoor sculptures, American sculptor Louise Nevelson — who was born in September 1899 — passed away today 33 years ago, on April 17, 1988. She is hailed as one of the most important figures in 20th-century American sculpture and also the international art scene. Nevelson was showcased at the 31st Venice Biennale and her work is seen in major collections in museums and corporations.

Louise Nevelson | Mrs. N’s Palace | The Metropolitan Museum of Art
Louise Nevelson. Big Black. 1963 | MoMA

Usually created out of wood, her sculptures appear puzzle-like, with multiple intricately cut pieces placed into wall sculptures or independently standing pieces, often 3-D. One unique feature of her work is that her figures are often painted in monochromatic black or white. Nevelson’s most notable sculptures are her walls; wooden, wall-like collage driven reliefs consisting of multiple boxes and compartments that hold abstract shapes and found objects from chair legs to balusters. She described these immersive sculptures as “environments”. The wooden pieces were also cast-off scraps, pieces found in the streets of New York.

Clown tight rope walker by Louise Nevelson, c. 1942 (John D. Schiff, photographer, Louise Nevelson papers, Archives of American Art, Smithsonian Institution)
Case with Five Balusters, 1959 | © Estate of Louise Nevelson / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York

She once famously said: “I’m not a feminist. I’m an artist who happens to be a woman.”

Despite this keeping aside of the movement, Nevelson has been a fundamental key in the feminist art movement, and is credited with triggering the examination of femininity in art. She challenged the vision of what type of art women would be creating with her dark, monumental, and totem-like artworks which were culturally seen as masculine at the time.

Even with her influence upon feminist artists, Nevelson’s opinion of discrimination within the art world bordered on the belief that artists who were not gaining success based on gender suffered from a lack of confidence.

Atmosphere and Environment XII at the Philadelphia Museum of Art, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.

 

 

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