Sky Garden, 1959-1964

Louise Nevelson constructed her sculpture Sky Garden using pieces of discarded wood. As a whole, Sky Garden resembles a series of modular cabinets, each containing a group of strange but alluring objects. As she did with many of her sculptures, the artist covered Sky Garden with a thick coat of black paint. Nevertheless, by carefully placing each wooden piece, Nevelson was able to create subtle patterns of light and shadow. Close examination of the sculpture reveals wooden table legs, banisters, and jagged planks. Nevelson began making these wooden constructions in the 1950s after relocating to New York City and taking classes at the Art Students League. These large-scale sculptures sometimes approach a monumental scale, like Sky Garden, or grow into environments, taking over full rooms.

Nevelson spent much of her career in New York City, but she shares a sense of isolation with the artists in this gallery. She preferred to work on her sculptures in solitude. Sky Garden gives the impression of entering Nevelson’s private world—a twilight space of the artist’s own making. As Nevelson once said of her work: “My total conscious search in life has been for a new seeing, a new image, a new insight. This search not only includes the object, but the in-between place—the dawns and the dusks, the objective world, the heavenly spheres, the places between the land and sea.”

-Amber Harper, PhD candidate in the Department of Art & Art History

From Left of Center, opened Sept 20, 2019

Reflecting on the transformative power of the black enamel paint she used to cover her assemblages, Nevelson once explained: “When I fell in love with black, it contained all color. It wasn’t a negation of color. It was an acceptance. Because black encompasses all colors. Black is the most aristocratic color of all . . . . You can be quiet and it contains the whole thing. There is no color that will give you the feeling of totality. Of peace. Of greatness. Of quietness. Of excitement.”

Sky Garden is composed of an eclectic mix of found wooden objects arranged in crates that have been stacked to create a monumental relief sculpture. The hinged doors suggest a cabinet of curiosities in which we might expect to find a collection of remarkable objects displayed. But the monochromatic finish estranges the objects from the associations they may originally have carried, subsuming them in an ocean of black.

-Sidney Simon, PhD ‘18

Redefining Feminism in Modern Art

Sky Garden marries light, shadow, and color, making us dive deeper into the frames of the sculpture to decipher what they contain. Nevelson constructed Sky Garden using discarded pieces of wood, deriving from her father’s practice as a carpenter, constructing multiple worlds of curiosities in one with the use of black as the only color. She considers black to be the totality of all colors, not as a negation but as an acceptance and triumph.

While facing criticism that her art was too “masculine,” Nevelson advocated for the arts as a genderless field, redefining feminine art to defy criticism and gender separation. Sky Garden is one of many tributes to the strength of intimacy and is a work that pushes back against the traditional guidelines for what a female artist should be making in the twentieth century.

—Irmak Ersoz ‘24