“I am a woman’s liberation.”
Louise Nevelson (1899-1988), born Leah Berliawsky in Czarist Russia, was an American sculptor known for monumental wooden wall and outdoor sculptures. Her liberated and independent lifestyle, and her eventual success as an artist made her an essential figure in the feminist art movement. She was one of the most important American sculptors of the 20th Century.
Nevelson’s artistic career began in the 1930s. After separating from her then husband Charles Nevelson, she began to study under Hans Hofmann, first in Munich and then in art classes at the Art Students League of New York. At this early stage in her career Nevelson created art using found objects. She also worked as artist Diego Rivera’s assistant on his mural Man at the Crossroads at Rockefeller Plaza. At first exhibiting her work in group shows, in 1941 she held her first solo exhibition at Nierendorf Gallery.
For the next decade she made ends meet by teaching sculpture classes to adults, and visited Latin America for artistic inspiration. In 1955 she joined Colette Roberts’ Grand Central Modern Gallery, where she exhibited some of her most famous works: Bride of the Black Moon and Sky Cathedral. In 1958, she joined the Martha Jackson gallery, and was featured on the cover of Life magazine. In the same year, the Museum of Modern Art purchased one of her pieces, and then included Nevelson in their Sixteen Americans exhibition of 1959. During this time Nevelson also served as president of the New York City Chapter of Artists’ Equity.
Nevelson’s career flourished from this point on. In 1960 Nevelson made her mark on the international arts scene with a show at Galerie Daniel Cordier in Paris. Two years later, her art was featured in the 31st Venice Biennale, and the Whitney Museum of American Art purchased her piece Young Shadows. She then joined the Pace Gallery, where she continued to hold shows until the end of her career. In 1967 the Whitney Museum hosted a retrospective of her work, showing over one hundred pieces of her art from the 1930s – 1960s. In 1969, she was commissioned by Princeton University to create an outdoor sculpture – her first.
One of Nevelson’s last major works before the end of her career was the chapel of St. Peter’s Lutheran Church in Manhattan, which she designed in 1975. Her many awards include the Brandeis University Creative Arts Award in Sculpture, National Medal of Arts, and the Skowhegan Medal of Sculpture. Many of her sculptures are currently in Louise Nevelson Plaza, a sculpture garden in lower Manhattan. She is survived by her son, Mike.