Book Review: The Sculpture of Louise Nevelson
The Sculpture of Louise Nevelson: Constructing a Legend. Edited by Brooke Kamin Rapaport. Essays by Arthur C. Danto, Brooke Kamin Rapaport, Harriet F. Senie, Michael Stanislawski. Chronology by Gabriel de Guzman. The Jewish Museum, New York under the auspices of the Jewish Theological Seminary of America. New Haven: Yale University Press. ISBN 978-0-300-16025-3
Note: The suggestion to do a book review on Louise Nevelson came from Maine artist Leslie Woods. I met Leslie through the River Arts Gallery in Damariscotta, Maine and always learn something new from our conversations.
The Sculpture of Louise Nevelson: Constructing a Legend is a beautifully designed book with large photographs of Louise Nevelson and her sculptures, large and small. Without reading a word of the book, I felt a kinship to Nevelson's sculptures and was particularly drawn to those in black. Nevelson was known for collecting bits of wood and other found objects, unifying them with a single color (black, white, or gold) and creating sculptures, small at first, but eventually room-sized which enveloped the viewer in her "environments." Nevelson worked with other materials (plexiglass, metal, cardboard and other household materials), but it through working with wood that she found her identity as a sculptor.
The book, The Sculpture of Louise Nevelson: Constructing a Legend, is a companion book to an art exhibit of the same name hosted by The Jewish Museum in New York. The Foreword is written by Joan Rosenbaum. The Preface is written by Brooke Kamin Rapaport, who also edited the book and authored one of four essays: Louise Nevelson: A Story in Sculpture (Brooke Kamin Rapaport), Louise Nevelson's Self-Fashioning: "The Author of Her Own Life" (Michael Stanislawski), Black, White, Gold: Monochrome and Meaning in the Art of Louise Nevelson (Arthur C. Danto), and Louise Nevelson's Public Art (Harriet F. Senie). In addition to the essays and the numerous plates showing Nevelson's sculptures, are reflections by three artists (Chakaia Booker, Mark di Suvero, and Ursula von Rydingsvard) and a chronology of Louise Nevelson's life.
The book is written in a professional and conversational tone. It feels like an intimate (and somewhat protective) look into Nevelson's life (with some debunking of a few myths that Nevelson, herself, may have helped foster). From an early age, Nevelson identified as an artist and was not above stretching the truth - even lying - if it suited her purposes. It was not an easy road, to establish herself as an artist. In following her passion, Nevelson challenged and, in some case, pushed past the constraints, the societal roles of motherhood and marriage, to become what she believed was her birth right.
I claim for myself I was born in this way. From earliest, earliest childhood I knew I was going to be an artist. I felt like an artist. You feel it--just like you feel you're a singer if you have a voice. So I have that blessing, and there was never a time that I questioned it or doubted it. Some people are here on earth and never knew what they wanted. I call them unfinished business. I had a blueprint all my life from childhood and I knew exactly what I demanded of this world. Now, some people may not demand of life as much as I did. But I wanted one thing that I thought belonged to me. I wanted the whole show. For me, that is living. (p. 31)
The essayists discuss Nevelson's personal history, her use of materials and color, and provide readers with an understanding of why she may have made the choices she did--in life, art, and fashion, but it is her artwork represented so beautifully in the large format photos of this book that I keep going back to. I do not know that further words are needed, except to give Nevelson recognition and thanks for having the fortitude and courage to pursue her art.
Have you read this book? Let me know what I've got wrong (or right!).
Links to other book reviews may be found in the Resources section.