23.09.1899, Pereyaslav, Poltava Province (now Pereyaslav-Khmelnitsky, Kiev Province) – 17.04.1988, New York
Sculptor, painter, graphic artist and set designer
The daughter of a timber merchant, in 1905 Louise Nevelson and her family joined their father who had emigrated to the USA two years earlier and settled in Rockland, Maine. She married the businessman Charles Nevelson (1920) and moved to New York. She took singing lessons with the famous teacher Estelle Liebling. She studied dramatic art (1926), attended lectures by Jiddu Krishnamurti (1928), and studied under Kenneth Hayes Miller and Kimon Nicolaides at the Art Students League (1929–30). She separated from her husband in 1931.
Nevelson studied with Hans Hofman in Munich and travelled round Europe. After returning to New York she continued studying with Hofman, who had moved to America. She became assistant to Diego Rivera when he decorated the New Workers School in New York (1933). She practised modern dance for twenty years.
She studied sculpture under Chaim Gross at the art school of the Educational Alliance, experimenting with materials and including ‘found objects’ in her early compositions which were influenced by Cubism, Surrealism and Dadaism. She earned a living by giving art classes.
Nevelson took part in exhibitions from early in 1933. Her first solo exhibition was held in the Nierendorf Gallery, New York in 1941. After trips to Mexico (1950–51) her works became very large. In 1958 the artist submitted her Sky Cathedral, an abstract spatial wooden collage; it was acquired by the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA), which in the following year included her works in the exhibition ‘Sixteen Americans’. She produced Homage to 6,000,000, two memorials to victims of the Holocaust, in 1964.
The first monograph about Louise Nevelson appeared in Paris in 1964. Her first retrospective, in the Whitney Museum in 1967, was followed by retrospectives in the world’s most important museums. She took part in the 31st Biennale in Venice (1962) and Documenta 3 and 4 in Kassel, Germany (1964, 1968).
She worked on monumental sculptures from the end of the 1960s: Atmosphere and Environment X to a commission from Princeton University (1969); The White Flame of the Six Million (1970) for the Temple Beth-El Synagogue in Great Neck, New York; Night Presence IV, a gift to the city of New York (1972).
Her Sky Gate (1978) was installed in the World Trade Center and ‘perished’ on 11 September 2001.
Louise Nevelson’s autobiography Dawns and Dusks: Taped Conversations with Diana MacKown appeared in 1976.
She was a member of the American Academy of Art and Letters from 1979, and had Honorary Doctorates from Oxford (1966), Columbus (1977) and many other universities. She was awarded Chevalier of the Légion d’ honneur. A square in Lower Manhattan where her sculptures are displayed has been named after her since 1979. F.B.