Sunday, 19 June 2016

Louise Nevelson. Pace Gallery, London (8 June-16 July 2016)

Pace Gallery, 6 Burlington Gardens, London W1S 3ET

When an artist settles upon a muse, mode or material which sustains their work for the rest of his or her career, such inspiration, exploration (and sometime obsession) can either result in a formidable and extraordinary oeuvre which transcends the “isms” of the timeframe within which the work was produced, or become just a motif to constantly return to, re-hash and repeat in an attempt to reclaim the intensity and originality contained in work considered to represent the artist at his or her zenith.  Thankfully, Louise Nevelson’s wooden assemblages made from found objects (such as wine crates, parts of chairs and lengths of wood jutting with nails) she gathered from the streets around her New York studio from the 1950s, falls into the first scenario.

Untitled (late 1970s)
Nevelson’s most iconic installations are those which she painted black, and it is a selection of these which are displayed at the Pace Gallery.  The artist painted her sculptures to obliterate the past histories of the individual pieces which made up an assemblage and unify the work.  Black gave the work a new shadowy, Gothic character.  Nevelson believed that the black paint gave her works an air of greatness and regal enormity.  By divorcing things from their functions she lent them poetry.  A piece such as “Sky Cathedral – Moon Garden + One” (1957-1960)  was Nevelson's sculptural answer to the Abstract Expressionist canvases of the predominantly male artists that commanded the attention of American art during the 1950s.  Nevelson was interested in the sublime and spiritual transcendence. Sky Cathedral, like many of her wall pieces, evokes the sense of a shrine or a place of devotion. The artist wrote that in her art, she sought “the in-between places, the dawns and dusk, the objective world, the heavenly spheres, the places between the land and the sea.”((John Gordon, Louise Nevelson (New York: Whitney Museum of American Art, 1967),12)
(Left) Sky Cathedral - Moon Garden + One (1957-1960)
(Right) Maquette for Dawn Shadows (1976-1983)

The sculptures in this exhibition range from small assemblages to free-standing columns and monumental wall-based works.  I found all of them so exquisite, so carefully considered that to see them together as a group for the first time was a delight and demonstrated how much visceral impact can be made when artist, intent and material synergise.  Scrutinising the work up close was just as satisfying and I wished I had taken a sketchbook with me, as I could have been occupied for hours reproducing small areas of interest from the pieces.

Detail from Untitled (late 1970s)

Perhaps it was a curatorial intent to link Nevelson’s darkly metaphysical and contemplative work to colour field painting as the darkly painted gallery walls brought to mind the Rothko room at Tate Modern.  The exhibition does offers a wonderful respite to the usual Mayfair hubbub happening outside and if fact, is far more peaceful than the Rothko room which is usually crammed with tourists taking selfies.  I would highly recommend a visit to this quietly beautiful exhibition, which runs until 16 July.  Textbook reproductions of Nevelson’s work simply cannot compete with experiencing her work in such close proximity.

(Left) Cascades-Perpendiculars II (Night Music) (1980-82)
(Right) Untitled (1973)

Moon-Star Zag XII (1981)

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