The life and times of abstract expressionism’s sculpture queen.
“I’m just sort of a one-man circus. I call myself an architect of shadow and reflection.” This is how Louise Nevelson (1899-1988) described herself in 1971. Wilson, an art historian and practicing psychoanalyst (NYU Medical School), is perfectly suited to write this intimate, revealing biography of the artist she interviewed many times and considers “one of the greatest American artists of the twentieth-century.” The author argues it was always art and creativity that mattered to Nevelson, even at the cost of sometimes ignoring her family. She was born Leah Berliawsky in Russia and moved to Rockland, Maine, with her Jewish family when she was 5. As a child, she loved drawing, especially furniture. She married Charles Nevelson in 1920 and had a baby boy in 1922. She moved to New York City and began studying, drawing, and painting at the Art Students League in 1929 where she was mentored by a number of artists. Trips to Munich and Paris sparked her love for cubism. From 1934 to 1942 (she divorced in 1941), she began to focus on her “true artistic vocation—sculpture.” Her early works used found wood, like furniture, and she arranged bits and pieces in distinctly linear ways, some spray-painted with a single color. She experimented with plexiglass, then aluminum, then steel. In 1942, she “let loose and headed straight for Surrealism.” As her exhibits and reputation grew, so did the extravagances of her personal life. She became promiscuous, and she wore colorful clothes, exotic jewelry, crazy hats, and furry false eyelashes. She was living large, and her steel sculptures were large now, as well—imposing, massive (50 to 70 feet high), and weighing tons. Exuding a mystical quality, they “became the environment itself.” In her final years, she created inspiring, dramatic, monumental public art for cities across the country. In this occasionally revelatory narrative, Wilson continually proves her extensive knowledge of her subject.
A much-needed, comprehensive biography of a great American artist.