Friday, September 23, 2011

Louise Nevelson ( September 23, 1900)

Louise Nevelson was a prominent sculptor and a leader in several areas of modern art. She was an innovator in the field of assemblage.

Nevelson, who was born in a shtetl near Kiev, was brought up in a Yiddish-speaking traditional Jewish family. They had immigrated in 1905, and settled in Maine.

As a young adult, Nevelson moved to New York. Her life there initially was not as an artist but as a society matron, wife of a rich businessman. However her marriage failed and she turned to art and a bohemian lifestyle. She developed her own spiritual philosophy, studied with several well-known modern artists in New York and Munich, worked as an assistant to Diego Rivera, and began to exhibit her sculpture in 1935. Like many artists of that era, she worked for the WPA.

In the 1950s and later, Nevelson became well-known as she developed her technique as a maker of assemblages -- a medium that received its name in 1961. The characteristics of this style:
"Assemblage transforms non-art objects and materials into sculptures of all sizes and persuasions. Its limitless range and evocative use of materials distinguish it from traditional fine-art sculpture. The very fragility of its materials, which in some instances only precariously endure, defies the notion of art's timelessness. Its rejection of craftsmanship completely redefines the status of the artist. In their desire to abandon permanence and dispense with chisels and awls, artists such as Joseph Beuys, Louise Nevelson, Bruce Conner, Arman, and Louise Bourgeois composed pieces that address change and chance and that appeal to the senses. ... The nonrepresentational work of Louise Nevelson stockpiles mostly wooden objects into abstract, monochromatic pieces that are unexpectedly sensuous."
In interviews after she became famous, Nevelson was reticent about her Jewish background:

"Nevelson was typically willing to weave any intriguing material into her personal myth, but she was notably reticent on the subject of her Jewish heritage. When questioned in interviews on this topic she replied that it was too personal to discuss. The spirituality of Louise Nevelson’s work might best be understood by considering her repeated emphasis on a search for harmony.

"Saint Peter’s Lutheran Church in Manhattan commissioned Nevelson to design entirely the interior for their Chapel of the Good Shepherd. ... When asked about designing a Christian chapel as a Jew, Nevelson replied, 'To me there is no distinction between a church and a synagogue. If you go deep enough into any religion you arrive at the same point of harmony.'”

Sources (and for further details): Jewish Women's Archive and Art + Culture.

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