© 2020 Estate of Louise Nevelson / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York, NY
Louise Nevelson, born Leah Berliawsky in present-day Ukraine, moved to Maine with her family as a child. As a young adult, she moved to New York City in 1920 to pursue her childhood passion of studying art at the Art Students League.
Nevelson lacked the money for fine art materials throughout the 1940s and 1950s, and used wood out of necessity. During a period of urban redevelopment in the mid-twentieth century, her practice of reusing architectural salvage was fostered by the demolition of many row houses and tenement buildings in New York City. At first, Nevelson found wood scraps on the street. By the 1960s, she often purchased secondhand furniture, and by the 70s she had wooden objects made to her specifications. The evolving sources of Nevelson’s materials illustrate her ascent as one of the leading sculptors in America. She represented America in the 1962 Venice Biennale.
Sky Enclosure is composed of bowed pieces of wood painted matte black, in which the grain and texture of the wood is secondary to the overall form of the sculpture, which juxtaposes curved and square shapes. Nevelson turned to working in wood “instinctively,” given her family background in lumber. Wood was a departure from the industrial metals used by other contemporary sculptors like David Smith, Carl Andre, and Richard Serra. Although she also worked in large-scale installation and monumental sculpture, Nevelson’s Sky Enclosure is a reminder of the potential of everyday objects and materials on an intimate scale.