Spread across the rooms of Pace Gallery’s West 24th Street location, Louise Nevelson’s iconic wood sculptures draw the viewer through various geometric planes, familiar cultural forms and intriguing variations on a theme. The artist’s work has hung in the walls of Pace over 20 times in the past 50 years, and returns here with a particular focus on her pieces from the late 1950’s onwards, a point where her particular artistic voice was beginning to fully develop.
Sourcing discarded elements and objects from the streets outside her studio, Nevelson would compose these elements into nested, box-like structures, immense agglomerations of pieces and parts that would take on an almost monolithic quality when she would ultimately paint them in monochromatic black, white, or gold—transforming these disparate elements into a unified structure. A number of works from this approach are included in the show, taking a range of forms that include her signature structures alongside wall reliefs, installations, and other pieces that speak to her ever-evolving eye, and thoughtful, concentrated hand.
The works are quite fascinating in their effortless appropriation of forms and pieces, turning detritus into objects that almost push for a recognition as legible, composed pieces and parts, despite their clearly familiar shapes and subtle textures. In one wall relief, a series of panels are joined together by blocks of wood, planks, panels, and other bits and pieces that take on a more composed character thanks to their stark white paint. Yet as the work’s level themselves out formally with this application of a uniform color, they equally move into a space of abstraction. Quite literally divorced from reality, these are pieces set free through Nevelson’s artistic act, pulled away from their original meanings and uses (or perhaps cast off), only to find a new life, and new spatial logic, through their accumulation here.
If there’s perhaps an enduring note that sounds throughout the show, it’s that of Nevelson’s ability to simulate earlier modes and gestures of the European avant-garde through these pieces. Curves and lines lock and link, painting a multi-layered surface that emphasizes the arcs and folds of the line much in the same way that an artist like Kandinsky had illustrated on canvas.
Supplied with repurposed and scrounged materials, Nevelson replaces the artist’s relentlessly moving hand with that of the world around her. For as much as these pieces speak to the artist’s aesthetic sensibility in composition, they equally reflect the forms of her era, the bed knobs, boxes and machines of her time, as suspended in a state of negotiation and co-existence. These are hyper-pluralized objects, a reflection of a world that continues to incorporate, and utilize, the imaginations of its inhabitants, than to discard the byproducts for something new. Afforded new life through the artist’s work, they trace lines through the world outside the gallery, and perhaps serve as one of the strongest connections between the two spheres that the 20th Century avant-garde had imagined.
The show closes March 3rd.
— D. Creahan
Louise Nevelson: Black and White [Pace Gallery]