Louise Blouin Foundation
3 Olaf Street London W11 4BE
This is the first major UK show for 40 years of the not-so-well-known 20th century woman sculptor, Louise Nevelson (1899-1988). A Russian émigré, she moved with her parents to the US and established herself in New York in the 1920s.
The work on display, from the 1950s to the 1980s, consists of wall hanging, free standing and monumental constructions of wooden objects. In the earlier works of screwed-together found objects there is a predominance of turned furniture components – particularly chair and table arms and legs. More robust materials – steel wall cladding and conveyor belt rollers - do get a look in but there is an ambivalence between the genteel and detailed artefacts of the 19h century and the gigantism of New York’s grim industrial plants.
The later works become more formal and serial – they are made of stacked boxes inhabited by interior constructions that are controlled but seemingly random variations on a theme. These pieces are painted a strange matt unblack ‘black’ that pulls them together visually and give the interiors of the deeper boxes a mysterious almost spiritual air.
They say that persistence pays in the art world and you would need to be persistent and focussed to succeed as a woman in the macho clamour of post-war New York. Nevelson talked about her work in formal terms as the ‘in-between place, of the material I use and the manifestation afterwards.’ You could also say that she constructed herself a distinctive in-between place between the flamboyance and spirituality of the Abstract Expressionists – many of whom were her close friends – and the austerity of Minimalism’s concerns with hands-off rule-based progressions and series.
Nevelson’s work is quieter and less immediately engaging than her contemporary New Yorker, Louise Bourgeois. Here there is little or no hint of a conscious articulation of gendered concerns (although the use of the chair, table and box are perhaps pointers to a contained and flexible domestic space). Rather, we are confronted with a stillness and silence in the later monumental works that briefly hold our attention in the onward rush of the multi-coloured, cacophonous, Manhattanised world that looms as the Westfield Shopping Centre just behind the gallery.