Louise Nevelson Biography

Louise Nevelson




Louise Nevelson became one of the world's best-known woman artists and the pioneer of environmental sculpture. She was born Louise Berliawsky on August 23, 1900, in Kiev and as a young child she immigrated with her family to Rockland, Maine. She moved to New York in 1920 to marry and initially explored dance, theater, and music. Dissatisfied with family life, she searched for a vocation. She turned to painting and drawing and studied at the Art Students League with Kenneth Hayes Miller, Kimon Nicolaides in 1928-1929, and briefly with Hans Hofmann in 1932.

She was influenced in the 1930s by the powerful forms of African, American Indian, and pre-Columbian art, and in the 1940s by the iconoclasm of Dada and Surrealism as well as the elements of dream and mystery represented in those movements. Nevelson had the first of five solo shows in 1941 at the prestigious Nierendorf Gallery in New York. Her most daring and prophetic works from this period were wood sculptures showing the effect of surrealist whimsy and her penchant for collage. They were included in her first thematic exhibition, The Circus, the Clown Is the Center of His World, at the Norlyst Gallery in 1943. She was prodigiously productive during the next fifteen years, and her style evolved from chunky terra-cottas to the evocative collages made of discarded wood scraps that became her specialty. During this period she also began her work as a printmaker.

In 1958, after four annual thematically designed exhibits, she mounted a show, Moon Garden + One, in which walls of boxed black wood collages surrounded the viewer in darkened rooms. This dramatic exhibition established Nevelson as a pioneer environmental American artist and an artist of the first rank. Major shows in New York followed at the Museum of Modern Art in 1959 and the Whitney Museum of American Art in 1967. From 1964 on she showed regularly at the Pace Gallery and eventually at galleries and museums in most of the world's art capitals including London, Milan, Paris, Brussels, Stockholm, Tokyo, Turin, and Zurich. In 1962 she represented the United States at the Venice Biennale. She received many public commissions, and in 1979 the Louise Nevelson Plaza, an entire outdoor environment of her black sculptures, was created in Lower Manhattan. She work is represented in numerous public collections including the National Museum of Women in the Arts, the Walker Art Center, the Smithsonian American Art Museum, the Whitney Museum of American Art, the Museum of Modern Art, the Cranbrook Art Museum, the Cleveland Museum of Art, the Asheville Art Museum, and the Kemper Art Museum.

Louise Nevelson died in New York City on April 17, 1988.

Bibliography: Louise Nevelson, Dawns and Dusks, ed. Diana MacKown (1976); Laurie Wilson, Louise Nevelson: Iconography and Sources (1981).