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American artist Louise Nevelson (1899—1988) remains one of the most singular sculptors of the 20th century. She was an active participant in the New York art world where she studied under Hans Hofmann and worked as an assistant to Diego Rivera on a mural project. While her majestic sculptures, assembled from discarded wood and usually painted all–black, exhibit the influence of Surrealism, Cubism, and elements of Abstract Expressionism, Nevelson cannot easily be categorized within a single art movement. \r
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\rBorn in Kiev, Ukraine, Nevelson and her family moved to the United States in 1905. They settled in Rockland, Maine where the Yiddish–speaking Nevelson learned English. After marrying, she moved with her husband to New York City where she began taking classes in dance, drawing, and painting. As she became more intensely involved in art, her marriage broke down and, despite struggling to make ends meet, she remained committed to pursuing an independent existence as an artist. Her use of wood is attributed to her need to forage for readily available materials, particularly during wartime scarcity. By assembling throwaway materials into monumental creations with a strong, resonant presence, Nevelson’s work mirrors her own difficult journey toward self-determination. \r
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\rWith its primitive, quasi-geometric composition, Untitled (c. 1945) is representative of Nevelson’s early sculptures that were greatly influenced by Cubism. A figurative resemblance can be found in its protruding head and chunky, arm–like angles. A dense, crouched sculpture, Untitled emanates a raw energy, which is heightened by its thick black surface. Through this dark coat of paint, Nevelson, who is noted for her strictly monochromatic use of color, effaces any trace of the ceramic’s original texture. In an interview, Nevelson articulated her unique treatment of color : “For me black isn’t black anyway, and color isn’t color as such. Color is a rainbow and is just as fleeting as anything on earth, you see, if you want to analyze it. And every minute it’s changing through light. So it’s a mirage.” \r
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\rEchoes, too, can be found in this totemic work of more mystical and symbolic meaning, redolent of Nevelson’s beloved Native American pottery, which she collected during the 1950s, and whose design and geometry she identified closely with. The work’s figurative tendency also foreshadows some of Nevelson’s later, more prominent, series like Moving–Static–Moving–Figures (1946—1948) and Game Figures (1949—1950) in which numerous biomorphic forms were stacked atop dowels. Nevelson started to achieve critical recognition when her work was featured prominently in “Sixteen Americans,” the seminal exhibition at the Museum of Modern Art, New York in December 1959. Following this, Nevelson was chosen to represent America at the 31st Venice Biennale in 1962 and was given her first retrospective in 1967 at the Whitney Museum of American Art. \r
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\r“Oral History with Louise Nevelson.” Interview by Arnold Glimcher. Archives of American Art. Smithsonian Institution, 30 Jan. 1972. Web. 21 Mar. 2017. Rapaport, Brooke Kamin, ed. The Sculpture of Louise Nevelson : Constructing a Legend. New Haven : Yale UP, 2009. 8. Print.