Louise Nevelson

UnnamedLouise Nevelson (American, 1899-1988), Sky Sentinels, 1976, Painted aluminum, Promised gift of Charles Hayes ‘65 in memory of Burton and Naomi Kanter, Snite Museum of Art, University of Notre Dame, IL2019.006.002 © 2019 Estate of Louise Nevelson/Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York.

 

ABOUT THE ARTWORK

 

Who made it?

One of the most remarkable artists of the 20th century, Louise Nevelson was a multi-faceted talent, having studied as a dancer, actress, ceramist, and painter before embarking on a career as a sculptor. Born in what is present-day Ukraine, she emigrated with her family from Czarist Russia to Rockland, Maine, where they were among the few Jewish families in town. Living briefly in New York City, Nevelson was introduced to the art world. In the 1930s, she moved to Munich to study with the painter Hans Hofmann; while there, she was exposed to the European avant-garde and introduced to collage and assemblage techniques.

Returning to New York in 1932, she began to assemble large compositions of found objects, primarily of wood, which she painted a uniform black. By the late 1950s, she had established a definitive abstract style and her works were eagerly acquired. Although never formally a part of any movement, Nevelson is associated with the phenomenon of “New American Sculpture,” whose adherents pioneered the use of industrial materials in an abstract vocabulary. She is regarded as one of the pioneering female figures who greatly expanded the dimensions of 20th-century sculpture.


What's going on in this work?

With its graphic shapes, Sky Sentinels, projects a dynamic calm in any space it occupies. Jutting angles paired with swooping curves entice the eye to move through and around the sculpture until they reach the visual platform at its top. This impactful use of space is reflective of Nevelson's late work. 

During the 1970s, Nevelson began working out of doors where she utilized sheets of steel, aluminum, and plexiglass in her sculpture. Most works were painted in her signature black including Sky Sentinels. Of her prolific use of black, Nevelson said, "it contained all color. It wasn’t a negation of color. It was an acceptance. Because black encompasses all colors. Black is the most aristocratic color of all...I have seen things that were transformed into black, that took on just greatness. I don’t know a lesser word.”


Take a closer look.

Click on the full image of Sky Sentinels above to see a larger version of the work. Look closely at the sculpture and use these questions to guide your looking. Share your thoughts with your family at home, with a friend through a virtual conversation, or with us in a response to this email.  

  • How would you describe the mood of this sculpture? What do you see that makes you say that? How do you think the mood would change if it were a different color?
  • How would you describe the shapes that make up the sculpture? Are they organic or geometric? Regular or irregular? How does the way that Nevelson used these two dimensional shapes move your eye around the sculpture? 
  • Nevelson titled this work Sky Sentinels. How does this title relate to the sculpture? What does it suggest about the work? What would you title this sculpture if you could change the title and why? 

Image credits:
Louise Nevelson (American, 1899-1988), Sky Sentinels, 1976, Painted aluminum, Promised gift of Charles Hayes ‘65 in memory of Burton and Naomi Kanter, Snite Museum of Art, University of Notre Dame, IL2019.006.002 © 2019 Estate of Louise Nevelson/Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York. | Louise Nevelson portrait by Lynn Gilbert, 1976, as commissioned by the Pace Gallery, New York. | Two detailed views of Sky Sentinels in a circular format, progressively zooming in on the sculpture.