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Bob Keyes

Bob Keyes has written about the arts in Maine since 2002. He’s never been much an artist himself, other than singing in junior high school chorus and acting in a few musicals. But he’s attended museums, theaters, clubs and concert halls all his life, and cites Bob Dylan as most influential artist of any kind since Picasso. He lives in Berwick.

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Posted: October 9, 2017

Farnsworth gives well-deserved look at Russian sculptor with Rockland ties

Written by: Bob Keyes
Louise Nevelson Gazes at Her Artwork, New York, 1978, 11 x 14 inches, Estate of Pedro E. Guerrero. Courtesy of Edward Cella Art + Architecture

Louise Nevelson gazes at her artwork, New York, 1978, 11 x 14 inches, Estate of Pedro E. Guerrero.
Courtesy of Edward Cella Art + Architecture

Farnsworth Art Museum curator Michael Komanecky has waited for the right time to give proper attention to Louise Nevelson, a sculptor with deep roots in Maine. The timing finally worked this fall, when the Farnsworth opens “Black and White: Louise Nevelson/Pedro Guerrero.”

The exhibition includes what Komanecky calls “signature examples” of her painted wooden sculpture, for which she was best known, and photographs by Guerrero of Nevelson in her home and studio.

Nevelson, who died in 1988, was born in Russia and raised in Rockland. She had an uneasy relationship with the town growing up, noting once: “We were an immigrant family, foreigners in a Daughters of the Revolution town. … They needed foreigners like I need 10 holes in my head.”

Louise Nevelson, Orfeo: Gold Thrones, 1984, Gold leaf on wood, 63 x 36 x 17 inches, Collection of the Farnsworth Art Museum, Gift of Louise Nevelson, 1985.23.29

Louise Nevelson, Orfeo: Gold Thrones, 1984, Gold leaf on wood, 63 x 36 x 17 inches, Collection of the Farnsworth Art Museum, Gift of Louise Nevelson, 1985.23.29

Still, Nevelson remained connected to Rockland long after she moved to New York and attributed her interest in art to early lessons learned in Rockland. Today, the Farnsworth owns a large array of her work, and Komanecky is pleased to present a sample of it. The inclusion of Guerrero’s photos of Nevelson help fill out her storyline, offering insight and perspective about how she lived and worked.

“In the process of doing this exhibition, it was affirmed in my mind, as well as in the minds of many others, that Louise Nevelson is one of the great sculptors of the 20th century, period. Not American sculptors, but all sculptors,” Komanecky said. “She created a kind of sculpture that had just not existed previously and in the process completely transformed the idea of what sculpture could be.”

Specifically, she made work that was massive in scale. The art on view at the Farnsworth reflects her interest in creating environments.

At a memorial upon her death in 1988, an acquaintance remembered that when someone asked Nevelson how she liked the pyramids after a trip to Egypt, she replied, “Too small.”

Said Komanecky: “Today, we are accustomed to room- and building-size installations. She was at the forefront of the idea.”

The Farnsworth is showing three key examples in black, white and gold. All the sculptures are painted wood.

“Dawn Column I” is a single white column, totemic in its reach. It was part of a much larger installation, “Dawn’s Wedding Feast,” in 1959 at the Museum of Modern Art in New York. The exhibition was about trends in American art after abstract expressionism, and Nevelson’s piece filled the room.

There’s also a black column and a set of gold-leaf thrones that Nevelson created in 1984 as part of a stage set for the opera “Orfeo and Euridice,” commissioned by the Opera Theatre of St. Louis. The Farnsworth owns a fraction of the larger stage set, which has largely been destroyed.

After showing her work, Nevelson stored it, if it didn’t sell. Because of the enormous size of many of her pieces, the artist took them apart before storing them, and sometimes used those deconstructed pieces in other projects.

The exhibition is small in the number of examples of her work, but large in scope. The work demonstrates her range and comfort with the material, as well as her adaptability, Komanecky said. Nevelson was prolific throughout her career, but was nearly 60 years old before she became known nationally and internationally.

The photographs in the exhibition add texture to Nevelson as a person. Guerrero began his career as an architectural photographer, working closely with Frank Lloyd Wright. He became interested in Nevelson after Art in America editor Jean Lipman suggested she would be a better subject for his photographic essay than Andrew Wyeth, whom he had first in mind.

She introduced the sculptor to the photographer over dinner, and they hit it off immediately. “Guerrero recalled that she was a sight to behold, swathed in fabric and floating across the room while batting false eyelashes. She was 76 when they met, and still dazzling,” Komanecky said.

She gave Guerrero access to her home and studio, and he came away with revealing images, taken in 1978 and 1979.

Working on the exhibition, Komanecky said, reaffirmed his admiration for Nevelson as an artist and a person. “She was always up for something new. She continually pushed herself.”

“Black and White: Louise Nevelson/Pedro Guerrero”

WHEN: On view through April 1; 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily through Oct. 31; 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tuesday to Sunday, Nov. 1-Dec. 1; 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Wednesday to Sunday, beginning Dec. 1
HOW MUCH: $15, $13 seniors, $10 students, free 16 and younger
INFO: farnsworthmuseum.org or 596-6457
RELATED: Chief curator Michael Komanecky will talk about Nevelson and Guerrero at 2 p.m. Dec. 7 in the museum auditorium.

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