Louise Nevelson: Artist Portrait

Louise Nevelson

Born 1899. Died 1988.

Works by Louise Nevelson at Sotheby's

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Louise Nevelson Biography

American sculptor, born in Ukraine.Born as Leah Berliawsky in 1899 in Peryaslav in the Russian Empire (today Kiev, Ukraine), Louise Nevelson immigrated to the United States with her family in 1905. The family settled in Rockland, Maine, where she met and eventually married Charles Nevelson in 1920. Shortly after marrying, the couple relocated to New York City. Between 1928 and 1930, she studied at the Art Students League in New York, despite disapproval from her husband and his family; they ultimately separated, and she traveled to Munich, Germany, to further her studies at renowned artist Hans Hofmann’s School for Modern Art. She, as well as Hofmann, left Germany in 1932 due to rising political tensions.

Upon her return to New York City, Nevelson fully submersed herself in both her art and the city’s art scene; she reentered the League, studying with George Grosz, as well as met, and ultimately worked as an assistant for, the legendary muralist Diego Rivera. Nevelson’s early work was largely characterized by her use of framing, which she would use to contain compositions of found objects, but her more mature work from this period began to exhibit her hallmark use of monochrome. Nevelson collected discarded objects—namely wooden furniture parts and woodcuts—assembled them, and painted them entirely black (with occasional forays into white or gold). Initially, not in small part due to her gender, her work was more or less critically dismissed. Her inclusion, however, in the seminal 16 Americans show at the Museum of Modern Art, New York, which included work by Jasper Johns and Robert Rauschenberg, garnered her positive critical exposure, allowing her to secure representation by the prestigious Pace Gallery, and, ultimately to represent the United States at the 1962 Venice Biennale. The Whitney Museum of American Art, New York, hosted her first career retrospective in 1967, and beginning in 1971 her oeuvre expanded to include a number of public commissions.

Nevelson met the fashion designer Arnold Scassi in the late 1960s, and they developed a close relationship that resulted in Scassi designing much of her wardrobe for the rest of her life. She was known to embellish these couture creations with her own lavish flair, by way of extravagant headdresses and jewelry. The unique and visually charged persona Nevelson presented led to her being photographed by Robert Mapplethorpe in the late 1980s. She died in 1988, but her legacy as a pioneering sculptor and singular presence within the art world has had immeasurable influence on subsequent generations of artists. Today, her work can be found in numerous leading art collections, including the Museum of Modern Art, New York; Centre Georges Pompidou, Paris; Tate Modern, London; and Hara Museum of Contemporary Art, Tokyo.

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