Art@Site Louise Nevelson Sky Sentinels

Louise Nevelson


Sky Sentinels

Smart Musuem
Louise Nevelson was always interested in the way a sculpture can interact with its surroundings, especially outdoors. In her words, 'what you put into a space will create another space,' and Sky Sentinels is no exception. The sculpture’s aluminum structure interacts with its display environment in the Smart Museum courtyard through thin, projecting components and an open framework, incorporating the environment into the art–viewing experience.
To achieve this interactive effect, the piece was constructed out of layers of metal panels, rendered in abstracted forms and combined into a single, cohesive structure. The curved edges and protruding ends of the sculpture seem to pierce into the landscape of the courtyard, the work appearing to extend beyond its base. This outward movement evokes the dual nature of the work’s title: the term 'sentinel' suggests a presence that is simultaneously protective and martial. In Nevelson’s work, the black mass of metalwork is foreboding, while the large projecting components seem to reach out over the space of the courtyard in a shielding gesture. The work is not only watching over the space, but integrating into it.
For Nevelson, the display space is integral to interpreting the form and purpose of the art object. Sky Sentinels accomplishes this exploration of space by integrating the environment into the sculpture and vice versa, creating an aesthetic experience that includes the courtyard as well as the artwork itself.
Famous for his emphasis on the 'push and pull' necessary to create a balanced abstract composition, Hofmann’s influence helped Nevelson to find her signature style, characterized by the use of found objects and architectural elements, joined together into a grid-like formation and painted a uniform color, typically black but sometimes white or gold.
While her wooden wall pieces are usually displayed indoors, this work demonstrates her ability to translate her approach into an outdoor work, utilizing pieces of scrap and cut aluminum, welded together and given a monochromatic finish. The Madison Plaza Building in the Loop once featured another outdoor Nevelson piece, but it has since been moved into the lobby and photography is not allowed.
Born in Kiev in 1899, Leah Berliawsky emigrated with her family from Russia to Maine in 1905.
A cousin helped the family to Anglicize their names, thus she became Louise, and she later married wealthy businessman Charles Nevelson and settled in New York City. In addition to studying at the Art Students League, in 1931 she traveled to Munich to work with legendary teacher, painter and catalyst of the Abstract Expressionist movement, Hans Hofmann.