(Robert Rosenblum, Arts Yearbook, vol. III, 1959)
Soaring over nine-feet in height and composed of 24 assembled boxes, Louise Nevelson’s Untitled (circa 1960) belongs to the artist’s groundbreaking body of work from the late 50s and early 60s. The mesmerizing monochromatic structure resonates alongside the work of Nevelson’s Abstract-Expressionist contemporaries, sharing the monumentality and all-over compositions of Mark Rothko and Jackson Pollock’s canvases and the upward thrusting forms found in Clyfford Still’s abstractions. Remarkably, Nevelson’s work is equally familiar when considered in relation to the fractured geometry of the Cubists and the organic, amorphous forms of the Surrealists.
Nevelson’s career began in the 1930s, but it was not until her 1958 exhibition Moon Garden Plus One at Grand Central Moderns in New York that she received critical acclaim for her work. Covering every wall, hanging from the ceiling and stacked on top of one another with an almost Baroque flair of excess, Nevelson’s sculptures enveloped gallery visitors. As a result the artist established the “environment” as a genre of art that fused notions of a communal spatial being with that of the personal self. Though often classified as a Neo-Dadaist assemblage artist among the ranks of Joseph Cornell, Robert Rauschenberg and Lucas Samaras, Nevelson’s oeuvre defies one specific categorization. Influenced by the major Western art movements of the 20th century as well as the colossal totemic Mayan sculptures she was exposed to during a brief stint as Diego Rivera’s assistant, Nevelson found inspiration all around her. Her choice to cover each work with only black, white or gold paint—a nod to Minimalism—allowed the forms to be visually unified while obscuring the found objects’ pasts and intended functions. This combination, Nevelson describes, “is like a marriage; you are not the total actor you play with another actor and my play with the others are my materials. So there’s a constant communication for a oneness, for that unity, for the harmony and for the totality.”
The impressive assemblage tower, Untitled, sits directly on the floor confronting its viewers—literally inviting them into Nevelson’s private sphere, thus creating an entirely new realm of their own. Architecturally very similar to Black Chord (1964) and Royal Nightfire (1963), Nevelson’s use of found milk crates suggests an earlier date as after 1960 the artist had boxes made specifically for her use. Each of the 24 boxes is intricately designed, illustrating the artist’s dedicated practice of collecting, sawing, gluing and nailing found objects together on an intimate scale. However, once jigsawed together and painted a uniform matte black, the boxes stand as one monumental whole acting as an homage to collecting. Whereas Joseph Cornell, Nevelson’s contemporary, compartmentalized and juxtaposed his found objects into small, self-contained spaces, Nevelson’s preference for sheer volume, scale and presence manifests in Untitled. The result is a stunning three-dimensional work that is defined by its variegated forms and objects layered with multiple histories. One of the most celebrated and innovative female artists of her time, Untitled, brilliantly typifies Nevelson’s mastery over form and content.
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