It can be difficult to pin down what kind of artist Louise Nevelson was. Sculptor? Printmaker? Choreographer? Yes to all of the above. Her artistic works run the gamut from tabletop sculptures and monochromatic prints to huge installation pieces composed of dozens, if not hundreds, of individual pieces and found items. She inhabited whatever creative space she found herself in, expanding the primary concepts of the media with her own interpretation and implementation. From August 27, 2023 until January 7, 2024, the Amon Carter Museum is featuring over 50 works from the artist over the span of her career in a setting that draws the viewer into and through the career of this amazing artist.
An ongoing theme of Nevelson’s works seems to be a re-examination of the expected and a use of items that are easily ignored. It is immediately apparent that a good portion of her work involved large-scale murals/sculptures. Deep black coloration on the larger installation pieces gives a sense of simplicity that is dispelled upon further examination of the pieces. In the large works, one can see found objects such as architectural structures like balusters and picture framing. Even closer study reveals smaller features; paintbrushes that have had their bristles and ferules removed and the handles cut in half, dozens of wooden spheres the size of softballs, and the screw from an agricultural press. Somehow, all these disparate items join together to form a visual ecology that encourages the viewer to look beyond the surface of the work.
It could be tempting to dismiss many of the monochromatic works as just that, monochrome. Photos simply cannot depict the layering of shadows and highlights that the structures display in person. The scale of the larger works is also held in the forefront of the viewer’s mind. It’s just difficult to forget how big some of these pieces are. Then the black monochrome gives way to a few all white pieces which change that way the light plays on the art. Shadows take the place of highlights for emphasis and offer movement to an otherwise static piece. The work titled Royal Tide is painted all in gold and somehow combines the light play of the black and white structures. There are also works that use no color at all. Nevelson experimented with Plexiglas, a newer art media that became popular in the 1950’s, creating almost beehive-like structures of many visual layers and sizes.Nevelson did not restrict herself to sculpture and became a printmaker of singular talent later in her career. She incorporates large black and white forms in fairly large format prints. Some will have inserts of bright red, or be displayed as a triptych, using minimal forms to bring forth a sense of movement and depth. Even the viewing angles of the prints can change the experience of the viewer from one moment to the next.
The display at the Carter is many-layered and faceted, encouraging the visitor to go back and see multiple pieces more than once. Small fragments pop up in the viewer’s mind and ask for a re-examination of what was experienced. Even the most simple-seeming works have hidden facets that keep the individual “dialed-in” to the exhibit as a whole. This is an exhibit that doesn’t come around very often and is highly recommended. For more information, please visit the Amon Carter website at cartermuseum.org.