American, born Ukraine, 1899–1988
Sky Cathedral, 1958
Wood, painted black
115 x 135 x 20 inches (292.1 x 342.9 x 50.8 cm)
George B. and Jenny R. Mathews Fund, 1970
In the 1940s, Louise Nevelson began collecting wood objects of all types and combining them in unusual and innovative ways. In 1957, the partitions in a box of liquor she received as a gift gave her the idea to put her assemblages into boxes. When her studio became too crowded, she stacked the boxes, and soon noticed that this space-saving technique had created a new form of sculpture.
Sky Cathedral is made up of thirty-eight boxes, each filled with a different array of wood fragments. Not all of the pieces were found, however; once she achieved prominence as an artist, she had a number made to order. Her creation process was primarily intuitive and rarely involved drawing plans in advance. Choosing from various piles of wood pieces, she put them together with relative spontaneity, adjusting as she worked.
The previous contexts of the wood fragments are hidden by the fact that everything is painted one color. Nevelson chose black for several reasons. First, she felt that it does not bring up the kinds of associations or moods other colors might evoke—except for mystery, a quality she valued in her sculpture. Also, she believed it is the “most aristocratic color,” lending the work a certain elegance. Black also refers to shadows; Nevelson once said “I really deal with shadow and space. . . . I identify with the shadow.”
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