The Sculpture of Louise Nevelson: Constructing a Legend

The Sculpture of Louise Nevelson: Constructing a Legend

Enigmatic and totemic, the sculpture of the artist Louise Nevelson, who died in 1988, evolved over her long and productive career from small assemblages of salvaged wood remnants to mammoth monoliths that were painstakingly assembled and monochromatically painted. One or two of those latter works easily fills an entire room, as they did in “The Sculpture of Louise Nevelson: Constructing a Legend,” a 2007 exhibition of more than sixty works organized by guest curator Brooke Kamin Rapaport for the Jewish Museum in New York City.

The exhibition design required rethinking the Museum’s existing space, which was not created for modern art. To comply with the five-day installation timetable and limited budget, our solution was to use fabric as both a frame and a foil. We created what we called a “Miesian box” within the Museum’s irregular interiors, as a means to present the artworks within a calm space. We designed a simple, nine-foot-tall fabric liner without seams to wrap the existing interior gallery perimeter, and also to span some areas of open space.

Viewers pass through the first two openings in the fabric wall to enter the main gallery space. They arrive in front of Dawn’s Wedding Feast (1957), which is painted white and sits on a white-painted floor. The second major piece, Mrs. N’s Palace (1964–1967)—a huge assemblage that is fifteen feet long, twenty feet wide, and eleven feet tall—is painted black and site on a black-painted floor. The gallery space is unified, but the sculptures have their own environment.

Nevelson’s oeuvre is powerful, witty, moody, and challenging. We wanted to showcase her work with a simplicity that is both understated and elegant: a testimony to our respect for the artist and her work.

The Jewish Museum, New York, NY