Artist Trivia: Louise Nevelson

Louise Nevelson, The Endless Column
Louise Nevelson, The Endless Column, 1969-1985, painted wood, Collection of the Farnsworth Art Museum. Bequest of Nathan Berliawsky, 1980.35.30

Who is this artist: 

Born under the zodiac sign of Libra on this very day (9/23), at the turn of the 20th century, this person is one of the most celebrated artists of that era. As a child, the artist immigrated to the United States joining other family members  in a community in midcoast Maine.

After high school, then marriage, the artist moved to New York City. There they studied at a prominent art school with well-known instructors of the time. They went on to become world-famous for their sculpture, prints, drawings, and jewelry.  Their assemblages were first created with found wood from the curbs of New York City streets. Later, the artist worked in metal, employing fabrication shops.

Their sensitivity to light, form, shape, and shadow became their trademark. Even their wall relief sculptures were noted for the way they engaged the viewer and were always changing when viewed from different distances, angles, under changing light conditions. 

Between the early and mid-1980s, the artist and their family gave many pieces of their work to the Farnsworth–creating one of the most significant holdings of the artist’s work in the world. This artist was first exhibited at the Farnsworth in 1979.

This artist is: 


(Pereyaslav, Russian Empire [now Ukraine] 1899–1988 New York, NY)

In 1979, when the Farnsworth Art Museum mounted its first exhibition of the work of Louise Nevelson the artist was moved by the attention from the town she had once called home. She remarked: “When I was growing up in Rockland from grammar school to high school, there was no museum. One of the great joys of my life is that we have a first-rate one now—a beautiful building that encloses creative works that can stand with the great ones.”

Born Leah Berliawsky in present-day Ukraine, she came with her two siblings and mother to Rockland in 1905. There they joined her father, who had come to the United States to escape the pogroms of the Russian Empire and to establish a new life for his family. After graduating from Rockland High School, Leah married businessman Bernard Nevelson and moved to New York City as Louise Nevelson. At the age of twenty-eight, she was studying art at the Art Students League, including brief instruction with the experimental and influential painter Hans Hofmann and with the sculptor Chaim Gross. Travels to Central America and life in New York inspired her best work. She called New York “a city of collage,” noting its layers of light, color, form, and shadow. These impressions inspired her sweeping, gestural, figurative drawings, her experimental prints, and her blocky, three-dimensional constructions. These assemblages of found and modified wood pieces, balanced yet complex arrangements within arrangements, became the defining work of her career. As her pieces combined and their dimensions scaled upward, they evolved to become wall- and room-sized environments, her signature achievement.

Nevelson’s sensitivity to the interactions between materials, light, and space made her one of the twentieth century’s greatest sculptors. Her designs range in scale from monumental to intimate: personal adornments made from scraps of wood with metal inlays of silver or gold. The jewelry she made echoed her larger sculptural forms of disparate shapes, integrated and often unified as a whole by gold, black, or white paint. The arrangement and overall monochrome of each work obscures the previous use of its individual components, causing their forms to emerge, newly abstracted, from what Nevelson called the “in-between place—between the material I use and the manifestation afterward, the dawns and the dusks.” 

Nevelson lived in a fluid, vital art environment of her own making in her New York home and studio, amid wall constructions, the materials and processes of projects, and the thinking and habits of everyday life. She intended that her monumental sculptures be theatrical, never restrained. Her sculpture in-the-round, and even her walls of shapes, change with the observer’s point of view and thus become interactive. Arnold Glimcher, her dealer and friend for many years, affirmed that within each Nevelson piece, “each compartment [is] available for discovery and exploration.”

Between 1981 and 1985, Nevelson and other members of her family donated more than eighty paintings, prints, drawings, sculptures, and pieces of her jewelry to the Farnsworth. With subsequent gifts and purchases, the Farnsworth has one of the world’s most significant collections of Nevelson’s work. Selections of her creations are always on view, reminding us of her enduring presence.

Louise Nevelson, The Endless Column, 1969-1985, painted wood, Collection of the Farnsworth Art Museum. Bequest of Nathan Berliawsky, 1980.35.30

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