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Louise Nevelson: Light and Shadow

Louise Nevelson: Light and Shadow

by Laurie Wilson

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The most complete biography of the iconic sculptor Louise Nevelson, the groundbreaking artist and fixture of New York’s art world based on hours of interviews the author conducted at the height of Nevelson’s fameIn 1929, Louise Nevelson was a disappointed housewife with a young son, surrounded by New York’s vibrant artistic community but unable to


The most complete biography of the iconic sculptor Louise Nevelson, the groundbreaking artist and fixture of New York’s art world based on hours of interviews the author conducted at the height of Nevelson’s fameIn 1929, Louise Nevelson was a disappointed housewife with a young son, surrounded by New York’s vibrant artistic community but unable to fully engage with it. By 1950, she was an artist living on her own, financially dependent on her family, but she had received a glimmer of recognition from the establishment: inclusion in a group show at the Whitney Museum of American Art. In 1980, Nevelson celebrated her second Whitney retrospective. Her work was held in public collections around the world; her massive steel sculptures appeared in public spaces in seventeen states, including the Louise Nevelson Plaza in New York City’s Financial District.The story of Nevelson’s artistic, spiritual, even physical transformation (she developed a taste for outrageous outfits and false eyelashes made of mink) is dramatic, complex, and inseparable from major historical and cultural shifts of the twentieth century, particularly in the art world. Art historian and psychoanalyst Laurie Wilson brings a unique and sensitive perspective to Nevelson’s story, drawing on hours of interviews she conducted with Nevelson and her circle. Over 100 images, many of them drawn from personal archives and never before published, make this the most visually and narratively comprehensive biography of this remarkable artist yet published.

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
In this biography of Ukrainian-born American sculpture artist Louise Nevelson (1899–1988), who’s famous for her work with shadow boxes and black wooden walls, Wilson (Alberto Giacometti: Myth, Magic, and the Man), a practicing psychoanalyst who teaches at NYU, uses her professional expertise to explore the inner life and motivations of the artist and her artwork. Nevelson herself is a fascinating, idiosyncratic character, in part because she crafted a persona for herself that sometimes even upstaged her art: she donned fake eyelashes, furs, and turbans even in the summer heat, lived a sexually uninhibited single-woman lifestyle in conservative mid-century America, and eschewed food and sleep in order to work nonstop. Wilson details the artist’s eccentricities and places Nevelson’s success in the context of the 1970s, specifically the male-dominated contemporary art scene in N.Y.C. Her descriptions of Nevelson’s art are vivid, carefully observed, and insightful, but her fixation on Freudian psychoanalysis—she traces much of Nevelson’s motifs and artistic choices (the color black, weddings) to her failed marriage and her longing for her mother—is distracting and often grating. 98 illus. (Oct.)
Art in America
“In Louise Nevelson: Light and Shadow, Laurie Wilson maps Nevelson's art onto [her] complicated personal history. As an art historian and psychoanalyst, the author probes into her subject's inner life, especially the conscious and unconscious themes that animate the artwork. Numerous interviews, conducted with a wide range of sources, are the book'''s strength. One of the revelations of Wilson'''''''s volume is how hard Nevelson worked to produce art and to have that art recognized.”
Booklist (starred review)
“This capacious, precisely detailed biography, the first in a quarter-century, was a long time in the making and consequently brims with diligently mined and carefully weighed revelations. Wilson’s fascinating, well-illustrated explication of Nevelson’s artistic quest reignites appreciation for the profound complexity, evocative beauty, and mystical power of her work.”
Diana Mackown
“The depth and beauty of this book is extraordinary. I lived with Louise Nevelson for almost twenty-five years and never asked questions that I thought would be intrusive. Laurie Wilson’s brilliant biography answers those questions with remarkable insight.”
Arne Glimcher
“Separating truth from myth, a perceptive investigation into the ''''larger than life’ American original, Louise Nevelson. A fascinating read for someone who knew her well.”
Valerie J. Fletcher
“Based on primary sources—especially unpublished interviews with the artist, her family, friends, and dealers— Laurie Wilson presents new information, adroitly separates fact from fiction, and reveals the complex personality of a much admired but little understood artist.”
Vera Camden
“Laurie Wilson finds a delicate and delicious balance between art history and psychoanalysis in this authoritative, exhaustive biography. With an opulence that Nevelson herself would have admired, Wilson proclaims her subject’s genius and sculpts a permanent place for Nevelson alongside her most admired contemporary, Pablo Picasso.”
Jane McAdam Freud
“Reads like a thriller with the hero, art, as savior… This compelling biography examines Nevelson’s inner life, and portrays her as an artist, woman, and complex human being. It is fascinating to read how she cultivated her image and rose to prominence in what was the macho art world of her time with her evolved and original works. Wilson’s refreshing account also includes Nevelson’s inspirational friends—many of them women—from the movers and shakers of her era. At last a major, yet inclusive, work in the genre of Art History!”
Kirkus Reviews
The life and times of abstract expressionism’s sculpture queen.“I’m just sort of a one-man circus. I call myself an architect of shadow and reflection.” This is how Louise Nevelson (1899-1988) described herself in 1971. Wilson, an art historian and practicing psychoanalyst (NYU Medical School), is perfectly suited to write this intimate, revealing biography of the artist she interviewed many times and considers “one of the greatest American artists of the twentieth-century.” The author argues it was always art and creativity that mattered to Nevelson, even at the cost of sometimes ignoring her family. She was born Leah Berliawsky in Russia and moved to Rockland, Maine, with her Jewish family when she was 5. As a child, she loved drawing, especially furniture. She married Charles Nevelson in 1920 and had a baby boy in 1922. She moved to New York City and began studying, drawing, and painting at the Art Students League in 1929 where she was mentored by a number of artists. Trips to Munich and Paris sparked her love for cubism. From 1934 to 1942 (she divorced in 1941), she began to focus on her “true artistic vocation—sculpture.” Her early works used found wood, like furniture, and she arranged bits and pieces in distinctly linear ways, some spray-painted with a single color. She experimented with plexiglass, then aluminum, then steel. In 1942, she “let loose and headed straight for Surrealism.” As her exhibits and reputation grew, so did the extravagances of her personal life. She became promiscuous, and she wore colorful clothes, exotic jewelry, crazy hats, and furry false eyelashes. She was living large, and her steel sculptures were large now, as well—imposing, massive (50 to 70 feet high), and weighing tons. Exuding a mystical quality, they “became the environment itself.” In her final years, she created inspiring, dramatic, monumental public art for cities across the country. In this occasionally revelatory narrative, Wilson continually proves her extensive knowledge of her subject. A much-needed, comprehensive biography of a great American artist.

Product Details

Thames & Hudson
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6.80(w) x 9.60(h) x 1.90(d)

Meet the Author

Laurie Wilson is an art historian and practicing psychoanalyst on the faculty of the Institute for Psychoanalytic Education affiliated with NYU School of Medicine. Her involvement with Nevelson dates back to the 1970s when she spent fifteen hours interviewing the artist for her doctoral dissertation, Louise Nevelson: Iconography and Sources (1978), which was subsequently published in the series Outstanding Dissertations in the Fine Arts. She has also written over a dozen chapters, articles, and essays on Nevelson for professional journals and publications, including essays for the 1980 Whitney Museum exhibit, for which she conducted additional interviews with the artist.

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