New York

Louise Nevelson

Pace | 537 West 24th Street

Two different bodies of work by Louise Nevelson—new examples from “Mirror-Shadows,” an ongoing series of wall reliefs, and works from a recent series of relief collages called the “Volcanic Magic” series—were presented in these two shows. Taken together, they not only revealed Nevelson’s furious creative drive, but pointed to some of the sources of that drive as well.

In each series the artist has used her now familiar vocabulary based on representing the debris of 20th-century industrial culture. In “Mirror-Shadows,” shown at Pace, wooden elements are used exclusively. The boxes, slats, hoops, frames, and pieces of balustrades in Mirror XXIV and Mirror XXVII, 1986, have mostly smooth textures, and their black-painted surfaces give the sculptures an almost elegant look. However, any sense of refinement is immediately contradicted by what one could call the attitude of these sculptures, which is rough, direct, and full of energy. Using the notion of dynamic contrast as a kind of guiding principle, Nevelson has produced structures that seem to push and strain within themselves almost to the breaking point. They appear so taut and tension-filled that the surfaces seem alive with movement. This movement is received as by force, as matter poised at the brink of transformation into form and idea. The multiple layers of signification that the individual parts of these sculptures carry as cultural comment surpass the curiously unrelenting appearance of each composition as a whole.

The collages shown at the Bernard Gallery communicate on a similarly intense level. Made of wood, paper, cloth, stone, and metal elements, the compositions are presented in wooden frames, mostly against dark grounds. The directness of this format suits the forceful character of these reliefs. With their emphasis on contrasts in color and texture, they can be considered as much pictorial as sculptural.

Nevelson’s style of sculpture seems to be compelled by a universal need: to possess reality. If the “Mirror-Shadows” makes it possible to begin to grasp the enormity of the material and spiritual worlds and the possible connections between them, then the “Volcanic Magic” series, a marvelously poetic invocation, allows us to take stock of that palpable dimension of reality—the world of things—in which Nevelson is uniquely at home.

Ronny Cohen