September 13, 2022 Groundbreaking Exploration of Louise Nevelson’s Midcentury Sculptures and Works on Paper to Premiere at the Carter
Bringing over 50 pivotal works together for the first time, The World Outside: Louise Nevelson at Midcentury reveals new scholarship on the artist’s dialogue with postwar America
Fort Worth, TX, September 13, 2022—Next summer, the Amon Carter Museum of American Art (the Carter) will mount one of the first exhibitions examining Louise Nevelson’s midcentury sculptures and works on paper through the lens of the artistic and cultural landscape that shaped her vision. Bringing together defining examples of Nevelson’s wall works, installations, and prints from across the country—many side by side for the first time—The World Outside: Louise Nevelson at Midcentury illuminates Nevelson’s multidimensional mastery of form and reaffirms the significance of her works as critical accounts of American history. The World Outside will be on view at the Carter from August 27, 2023, through January 7, 2024, before traveling to Colby College Museum of Art in Waterville, ME.
The World Outside offers an in-depth study of the artistic, economic, and political forces behind Nevelson’s multifaceted innovations in the mid-twentieth centiry. Working against repressive gender norms and a culture of mass consumption, Nevelson subverted the era’s obsession with domesticity and industrial production by championing hands-on techniques and repurposed materials. Investigating over 50 key sculptures and works on paper, the exhibition reveals how Nevelson’s encounters with “the world outside” fueled her imagination and ingenuity—from the Colonial Revival and the “discovery” of American folk art in the first half of the twentieth century; to muralism and Mayan iconography in her travels through Mexico and Guatemala; to New York’s modern dance scene; to Los Angeles’ print-art revolution; to media coverage of environmental crises and the Space Race. Among the landmark works featured are:
- Lunar Landscape (1955-59), a major highlight from the Carter’s collection, tapping into postwar fascinations with visions of space through allusions to the moon’s cratered surface;
- Royal Tide I (1960), Nevelson’s first gold work, negotiating the ethereal, earthly, and social symbolism of the precious metal in relation to midcentury materialism;
- Rain Forest Wall (1967), a monumental work unveiled in Nevelson’s 1967 retrospective at the Whitney Museum of American Art, which will be on view in the United States for the first time in over fifty years;
- Transparent Sculpture I (1967-68), one of the artist’s earliest works created entirely from plexiglass, challenging perceptions of the boundaries between two-, three-, and four-dimensional forms; and
- over 20 prints produced by Nevelson at Atelier 17 and at the Tamarind Lithography Workshop in Los Angeles during her 1963 and 1967 fellowships, including her mammoth 56 x 34-inch piece, Untitled [I] (1967), exploring interplays of surface and depth.
“Bringing forward a deeper, more dynamic understanding of some of Nevelson’s most important works—including essential examples from our collection—The World Outside advances the Carter’s mission to expand perspectives of the history of creativity in America,” said Andrew J. Walker, Executive Director at the Carter. “The new scholarship presented in the exhibition is a timely reminder of the crucial role artists serve as witnesses to history; the nuanced stories still to be discovered within seemingly familiar works; and—as underscored by Jean Shin’s and Tara Donovan’s catalogue reflections—the ways that any single voice can echo through generations to follow.”
Rather than a chronological presentation of Nevelson’s artwork, The World Outside features five thematic sections that provide new insights into the artist’s practice dating from the late 1930s to the early 1970s. These include:
- The Choreographer: Highlighting the artist’s twenty-year journey as a dancer, from her time as a student to a mature practitioner of eurythmics, the exhibition’s first section connects Nevelson’s early drawings of bodily movement with her well-known wall works, created through spontaneous assemblage methods. As she remarked, “Dancing frees your mind and opens it to sculptural possibilities.”
- The Visionary: This section explores Nevelson’s blending of the mystical and the real through her use of found materials and lunar themes, just as media coverage of the Space Race and the first orbiting satellites tantalized the American imagination. The works featured here crystalize Nevelson’s efforts to take the recognizable and transform it in ways that evoked “something beyond,” as she described it, to awaken viewers’ planetary consciousness.
- The Community Builder: Nevelson was one of the first American artists to imbue abstract sculpture with illusionism and to build large-scale environmental installations. “The Community Builder” investigates the ways Nevelson’s wall works and columnar sculptures dissolve boundaries, inviting viewers to participate in the shared spaces that they create. The works in this section primarily derive from Nevelson’s landmark installation Dawn’s Wedding Feast, which debuted in 1959 at the Museum of Modern Art in New York.
- The Printmaker: Drawing from the Carter’s extensive Tamarind Lithography Workshop Collection, this section charts how Nevelson created alternative modes of viewing in her prints through unconventional printmaking methods. The works featured here showcase Nevelson’s experiments with color, material, and texture that led to aesthetic breakthroughs in her monochromatic sculptures, as she moved seamlessly between two and three dimensions.
- The Environmentalist: Spotlighting Nevelson’s attunement to the transformation of America’s wartime austerity into a culture of mass consumption, this section examines the materials, processes, and themes through which the artist responded to growing ecological vulnerabilities. The works featured here allude to sources of inspiration in the natural world and reveal previously unexplored connections between Nevelson’s art and the ecology movement.
“Challenging perceptions that Nevelson falls among the tide of abstract expressionists working in the postwar period, The World Outside invites visitors to rediscover the artist’s iconic sculptures as fusions of diverse media, histories, and ideas that uniquely capture the vitality of their moment,” said Shirley Reece-Hughes, Curator of Paintings, Sculpture, and Works on Paper at the Carter. “With fresh insight on Nevelson’s prescient vocabulary—from her rejection of gendered hierarchies to her environmental consciousnesses to her experimentation with raw materials—we hope the exhibition gives scholars and art lovers alike a new appreciation for the artist’s endless creativity and legacy as a forecaster for the art world.”
The Carter will release a fully illustrated catalogue to accompany the exhibition, with scholarly essays by the exhibition’s curator, Reece-Hughes, and contributors Julia Bryan-Wilson (UC Berkeley); Mary K. Coffey (Dartmouth); Jane Dini (independent scholar); Marin R. Sullivan (Harry Bertoia Foundation); and Karli Wurzelbacher (The Heckscher Museum); along with reflections by dancer Ellen Graff (Martha Graham Company) artists Tara Donovan and Jean Shin; Elizabeth Finch (Colby College Museum of Art); and Maria Nevelson, the artist’s granddaughter. The World Outside: Louise Nevelson at Midcentury is organized by the Amon Carter Museum of American Art. Generous support for the project comes from The Kaleta A. Doolin Foundation and the National Endowment for the Arts. The Carter’s presentation of The World Outside: Louise Nevelson at Midcentury is supported by the Alice L. Walton Foundation Temporary Exhibitions Endowment.
Image: Louise Nevelson (1899–1988), Lunar Landscape, 1959–60, painted wood, Amon Carter Museum of American Art, Fort Worth, Texas, Purchase with funds from the Ruth Carter Stevenson Acquisitions Endowment, 1999.3.A-J.
About the Amon Carter Museum of American Art
Located in the heart of Fort Worth’s Cultural District, the Amon Carter Museum of American Art (the Carter) is a dynamic cultural resource that provides unique access and insight into the history and future of American creativity through its expansive exhibitions and programming. The Carter’s preeminent collection includes masterworks by legendary American artists such as Ruth Asawa, Alexander Calder, Frederic Church, Stuart Davis, Robert Duncanson, Thomas Eakins, Georgia O’Keeffe, Jacob Lawrence, and John Singer Sargent, as well as one of the country’s foremost repositories of American photography. In addition to its innovative exhibition program and engagement with artists working today, the Museum’s premier primary research collection and leading conservation program make it a must-see destination for art lovers and scholars of all ages nationwide. Admission is always free. To learn more about the Carter, visit cartermuseum.org.