It’s wonderful to be reminded of how influential Louise Nevelson was and still is. This show of some of her signature black assemblages and many of her less-known collages, gave a sense of her value and range. Beginning with collages from the early ’60s composed of cardboard, wood shards, and spray paint, a pristine sense of order was striking. She most succeeded in extending and monumentalizing the genre in her matte-black painted constructions that united and contained their many disparate elements. Suddenly, whatever their size, the dense compositions became architectural statements, comprising the full idea of domesticity, autobiography, chance, and memory.
The selection included the black wood Spring Street (1984)—a surprisingly formal composition with fragments of musical instruments among its found components—as well as a 1985 mixed-media assemblage that gave the full measure of her other endeavors. Rauschenbergian with rusty crushed-metal pieces and chair parts trying to break free, the sculpture is animated in a way that the architectural sculptures are not.
Nevelson’s sculptures capture and organize the refuse as well as the sophistication of the city. Her legacy can be found in the work of Chakaia Booker, who in contrast builds with black rubber tires, giving her equally elegant sculptures a streetwise cubistic form. Nevelson found a way to show three-dimensionality flattened out. Call it constructivism.
A version of this story originally appeared in the April 2015 issue of ARTnews on page 78.