Sunday, August 5, 2012

Reveling in Louise Nevelson's Printed Surfaces

I have known and admired the work of Louise Nevelson, but after reading her biography, I came to understand more about a strong-willed and powerful woman; one whose difficulties to pursue her art made her leave behind her husband and child, struggle for years without financial security and whose goal to be seen as an artist, not a ‘female’ artist, were ahead of the norm.

Discovering her prints was a pleasure, and as expected, their surfaces and the adventurous spirit with which she made them show us an artist truly forging her path toward innovation, and exploration to push the boundaries of a medium.  Nevelson’s prints tend in some degree to push visually toward cubism, as was her often heard credit to the influences of Picasso and Hofmann. She also pushed the printed medium with deeply embossed and etched plates, trying to make the paper bend to her will as she did with his found object sculptures. One can also see where her influences upon other notable painter/printmakers like Frank Stella and Jasper Johns occur.
The variety of her images reflects an consistent curiosity about tactile and rich surfaces and leaves us with an incontrollable desire to go put our hands on them. I am including a biography on Nevelson for those of you wanting to know more about a remarkable artist.

Louise Nevelson was born Leah Berliawsky (1899-1988) in Perislav , Poltava Governorate in the former Russian Empire. When she was three years old, her family emigrated to the United States, settling in Rockland, Maine, in 1905. She saw both of her parents suffer from depression, due in part to the adjustments to living in America, and being isolated in a small Jewish community. It was during high school that Nevelson decided to study art. Before moving to New York City, she married a wealthy businessman, Charles Nevelson, and they had one son, Myron(Mike), but her in-laws disapproved of her artistic interests and she eventually divorced  her husband in 1941.

In the 1930s Nevelson studied at the Art Students League of New York with Kimon Nicolaides and she went to Europe (Munich) to study with the renowned Hans Hoffmann. After returning to New York, Louise met and became an assistant to the Mexican muralist Diego Rivera. She also studied with sculptor Chaim Gross. She continued to experiment with other artistic mediums, including lithography and etching,  but eventually decided sculpture would be her medium.
Nevelson worked for the WPA teaching art to children in Brooklyn until 1939. She exhibited her work in several smaller shows in the 1930s, received her first solo show at the Nierendorf Gallery in 1941. Her work consisted mainly of found objects and collage, speaking to her interests in Cubism and Surrealism. The scale of her work later grew to a monumental size, and when critics reviewed her pieces, it was praised until it was known Nevelson was a woman. A reviewer of her 1941 exhibition at Nierendorf Gallery stated: "We learned the artist is a woman, in time to check our enthusiasm. Had it been otherwise, we might have hailed these sculptural expressions as by surely a great figure among moderns." Sexism being rampant in the art world, it wasn’t ready, it seemed, for a talented ‘female’ sculptor. Nevelson believed that art reflected the individual, and chose to take on her role as an artist, not specifically a female artist. “I'm not a feminist. I'm an artist who happens to be a woman.”  Her opinion of discrimination within the art world bordered on the belief that artists not gaining success based on their gender suffered moreso from a lack of confidence. 

Nevelson visited Latin America, and was inspired by ancient Mayan ruins and Guatemalan steles. Her 1958 series of exhibitions were highly praised, and in 1959 Nevelson was included in MoMA's Sixteen Americans exhibition alongside Robert Rauschenberg and Jasper Johns. The scale of her sculptures and the influence of Latin American ancient art are credited as putting "Nevelson's sculpture in league with the grand scale of Abstract Expressionist painting, as well as the earlier mural painting of Rivera.” Nevelson took found objects and spray-painted them to disguise their original purposes. She gave credit to Picasso and Hofmann’s influence of Cubism as to her extensive use of discarded objects, and she was influenced by Native American art, dreams, and archetypes. 

From 1957 to 1958, she was president of the New York Chapter of Artists' Equity. That year, she was featured on the cover of Life magazine. In 1962 her work was selected for the 31st Venice Biennale, and from 1962 to1964 she became national president of Artists' Equity. In 1967 the Whitney Museum hosted the first retrospective of Nevelson's work, showing over one hundred pieces, including work from the 1930s to the late 60s, and four years later  the Walker Atr Center curated a major traveling exhibition of her work. 
Louise Nevelson Plaza, is located in downtown New York City and features a collection of her works. She donated her papers to the Archives of American Art The Farnsworth Art Museum, in Rockland, Maine, houses the second largest collection of her works.  Nevelson has a place-setting  in Judy Chicago's 1974–1979The Dinner Party.. Upon her death, Nevelson’s estate was estimated to be worth at least $100 million. 

National Medal of Arts
National Institute of Arts and Letters
American Academy of Arts and Letter Gold Medals
Creative Arts Award in Sculpture,  Brandeis University
Harvard University, honorary degree
Rutgers University, honorary degree

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