Louise Nevelson

Black Wall


Louise Nevelson 1899–1988
Painted wood
Object: 2642 × 2165 × 648 mm
Presented by the Friends of the Tate Gallery 1962

Display caption

In the late 1950s, Nevelson began to make reliefs by stacking wooden boxes and crates, each of which would contain an arrangement of found objects that she collected as she walked around the streets of New York City. Black Wall is an early example of this approach, filled with pieces of scrap timber, such as joinery offcuts and fragments of furniture. The disparate elements are unified by being painted black, a colour which Nevelson suggested will make any material look more distinguished.

Gallery label, January 2016

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Catalogue entry

Louise Nevelson born 1899 [- 1988]

T00514 Black Wall 1959

Inscribed 'NEVELSON | 1959' on the front of one box (towards top left) and again on the back of another
Wood painted black, 24 units, 104 x 85 1/4 x 25 1/2 (264 x 216.5 x 65)
Presented by the Friends of the Tate Gallery 1962
Prov: With Galerie Claude Bernard, Paris (purchased from the artist through the Martha Jackson Gallery, New York, January 1960); with Hanover Gallery, London; Friends of the Tate Gallery
Exh: Sculpture and Drawings, Hanover Gallery, London, June-September 1961 (44, repr.)
Lit: Arnold B. Glimcher, Louise Nevelson (London 1972), pp.78-86, repr. p.176
Repr: Ronald Alley, Recent American Art (London 1969), pl.35; Herbert Christian Merillat, Modern Sculpture: The New Old Masters (New York 1974), pl.99

Arnold B. Glimcher (op. cit., p.78) has described as follows how Louise Nevelson first began to make black walls:

'Beginning in 1956 and continuing into 1957, Nevelson concentrated mostly on shallow relief sculptures, playing natural or organic elements against smooth, machine-cut geometric forms that absorbed or redirected the light ...

'Reliefs and free-standing assemblages proliferated - more than she could store. For Christmas, 1957, Nevelson received a case of liquor and instantly recognized that the crate, with its cellular divisions intended as bottle separators, was in itself a sculpture. The compelling play of shadow working within the cellular interior suggested the enclosure of her existing reliefs. Further extending the illusory space of the reliefs by enclosure or shadow-boxing, they became compound found, readymade objects: Milk boxes, lettuce crates, and any other available enclosures were utilized ...

'These boxes, momentarily considered separate pieces, began to overflow the studio, and in order to provide more working space, she began to stack them one atop the other, against the wall. Constantly shifting and changing the relationship of these units during the addition of new ones, Nevelson became aware that the process of assembling the individual cells or units, for storage, was a further elaboration of the natural process of the work itself. Nevelson created her first wall.'

As the first walls were improvised from pre-existing units, there is no precise limitation on either the number of boxes or their arrangement. The arrangement now used for the present work is based on the original photograph sent over from New York (and reproduced in the catalogue of the Hanover Gallery exhibition) which, however, shows twenty-nine boxes instead of twenty-four; the five additional boxes were set at the sides, one to the left and four to the right (up the right-hand side), all facing outwards. The artist subsequently reduced the wall to twenty-four boxes and this was the number sold to the Galerie Claude Bernard in January 1960, as is proved by the original invoice. A photograph taken before about May 1959 and reproduced in Art International, III, Nos.3-4, 1959, p.49 shows a different black wall entitled 'Wall-Night Reflections', with some of the same boxes.

Published in:
Ronald Alley, Catalogue of the Tate Gallery's Collection of Modern Art other than Works by British Artists, Tate Gallery and Sotheby Parke-Bernet, London 1981, pp.554-5, reproduced p.554

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