Louise Berliawsky Nevelson (born Leah Berliawsky, September 23, 1899, Kiev, Czarist Russia - d. April 17, 1988, New York, New York) was a Ukrainian-born American artist.
Nevelson is known for her abstract expressionist “boxes” grouped together to form a new creation. She used found objects or everyday discarded things in her “assemblages” or assemblies, one of which was three stories high: ”When you put together things that other people have thrown out, you’re really bringing them to life – a spiritual life that surpasses the life for which they were originally created."
Born in 1899 to a Jewish timber merchant in the Ukraine, Leah (as she was originally known) migrated to the United States around 1905 after her father's business brought him to Rockland, Maine. Reports suggest the young girl played with timber almost from the time she arrived in Maine, and set her sights on becoming a sculptor by age ten.
In 1929 Nevelson enrolled at the Art Students League of New York. In 1931, she went to Europe and studied with Hans Hofmann in Munich before traveling to Italy and France. She returned to New York in 1932 and again studied for a time with Hofmann, who was by now a guest instructor at the Art Students League.
In 1933, Nevelson met renowned Mexican painter and political activist Diego Rivera at the New Workers School, NY. Rivera was in New York working on his mural for Rockefeller Center, and she casually worked as his assistant for a short period. Shortly thereafter, she began to work in sculpture and joined a sculpture class taught by Chaim Gross at the Educational Alliance.
In the early 1930s Nevelson also worked as an art teacher with the New Deal's WPA. During the 1940s she showed five major exhibitions revealing the influences of surrealism and collage. The Circus, the Clown Is the Center of the World (1943) was the major exhibit of this period. She was prodigiously productive during the next 15 years, as she evolved the sophisticated collage made of wood scraps that became her specialty. In her 1958 show, Moon Garden + One, walls of wood collages surrounded the viewer in darkened rooms. This helped secure her reputation as a pioneering American environmental artist and gave her a prominence she had never achieved before.
During the following two decades, Nevelson--known for her forceful public personality, a flamboyant style of dress, and her trademark false eyelashes--exhibited widely throughout the major art centers of the world and received many public commissions. To commemorate her work, the Louise Nevelson Plaza in Lower Manhattan, an entire outdoor garden of her metal collages, was established in 1978 and dedicated in 1979.
Nevelson died in her home in 1988, aged 88, but has retained her reputation as one of the most significant artists of the twentieth century. She has been commemorated on a number of postage stamps since her death. Her son Mike Nevelson also became a sculptor, and two of his daughters, Neith Nevelson, born from his first marriage to Susan Nevelson, and Maria Nevelson, are artists as well.