Published in Culture Trip on July 17 2014.
The work of American artist Louise Nevelson, one of the most significant sculptresses of the 20th century, has left an indelible mark on the history of art. Despite the multitude of influences that shine through her art, Nevelson’s work defies any specific art historical categorisation. The exhibition LOUISE NEVELSON. Creativity shaped my life in Frankfurt’s DIE GALERIE is a retrospective journey of the artist’s work in all its essential facets.
From a very young age, Nevelson was clear about her preoccupation with sculpture as a medium. ‘I want to be a sculptor. I don’t want colour to help me’ , the precocious Nevelson uttered at the mere age of nine, when her librarian asked her what she wanted to be when she grew up. Little did she know that this childhood determination would manifest itself even more stongly in adulthood. Louise Nevelson grew to be one of the most formidable feminist sculptresses, whose work has found place in many of the most renowned art collections worldwide.
Ever since the separation Nevelson followed the beating rhythm of her ecstatic heart, which was always in pursuit of something big. In 1928, she joined the Art Students League, where she became familiar with the works of Pablo Picasso and Marcel Duchamp. She travelled through Europe, where she studied with Hans Hoffman in Munich. She assisted Diego Rivera on a mural project. She studied modern dance and drama. Nevelson cultivated a grandiose style that characterised both her appearance and her artistic practice. She wanted to be feminine and individualistic. She wanted to build an empire.
The Frankfurt exhibition is a journey through different periods in the sculptress’s life, where the multitude of influences that nourished her creative style are visible. Her early sculptural engagements with terracotta recall the influence of Pre- Columbian and Mesoamerican styles.
But it is the wooden assemblages, which piece together various found objects, for which Nevelson was most celebrated. These works have an almost magnetic pull and command the most attention. She believed what the creative person arrests is dependent upon their total history. Her engagement with wood was an integral part of her own personal history. Her father, when he first arrived in the USA, worked as a woodcutter and junk collector. Her childhood pastime of playing with scraps of wood embedded itself deeply into her subconscious and in the 1940s and 1950s she started creating her signature wooden monochromatic sculptures.
The exhibition also pays homage to an often understated, but very integral part of Nevelson’s oeuvre – her collage works. These works, though more visually subtle than her monumental assemblages, act as playground for experimentation. She permits spontaneity and the interplay between multiple media such as metallic foil, wood and paper to create a relief-like characteristic. Unlike her sculptures, which are austere and meditative due to their monochromatic nature, Nevelson introduces occasional additions of colour into the picture plane.
Louise Nevelson’s work reflects her persona: bold, larger than life and fiercely individualistic. Throughout her 90 years of life, she rejected conventions and created an independent path in a predominantly male-dominated field. As she declared assertively, ‘Women used to be afraid. Well I wasn’t afraid. I felt like a winner. I am a winner.’
‘Louise Nevelson. Creativity shaped my life’ is on view from 5 June to 6 September 2014 at DIE GALERIE, Frankfurt am Main, Germany. The exhibition is accompanied by a synoptic exhibition catalogue, which includes text by the artist. For further information please access the gallery website.