Discipline: Visual artist, sculptor

Louise Nevelson

Discipline: Visual artist, sculptor
Region: New York, NY

Edward MacDowell Medalist: 1969

Louise Nevelson (1899-1988) was an American sculptor known for her monumental, monochromatic, wooden wall pieces and outdoor sculptures. She was born in the Poltava Governorate of the Russian Empire (present-day Ukraine) and emigrated with her family to the United States in the early 20th century.

Nevelson's first experience of art was at the age of nine at the Rockland Public Library, where she saw a plaster cast of Joan of Arc. Shortly thereafter she decided to study art, taking drawing in high school, where she also served as basketball captain. She painted watercolor interiors, in which furniture appeared molecular in structure, rather like her later professional work. Female figures made frequent appearances.

By the early 1930s she was attending art classes at the Art Students League of New York, and in 1941 she had her first solo exhibition. A student of Hans Hofmann and Chaim Gross, Nevelson experimented with early conceptual art using found objects, and dabbled in painting and printing before dedicating her lifework to sculpture. 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. A unique feature of her work is that her figures are often painted in monochromatic black or white.

In the 1940s, she began producing Cubist figure studies in materials such as stone, bronze, terra cotta, and wood. In 1943, she had a show at Norlyst Gallery called "The Clown as the Center of his World" in which she constructed sculptures about the circus from found objects. The show was not well received, and Nevelson stopped using found objects until the mid-1950s. Despite poor reception, Nevelson's works at this time explored both figurative abstracts inspired by Cubism and the exploitative and experimental influence of Surrealism.