Louise Nevelson

Scavenger Par Excellence, Wandering Jewess.

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In the Jewish Museum catalog, Brooke Kamin Rapaport suggests that Nevelson’s “black walls—already doleful tombs of objects once relating to an individual’s life—were well suited to themes of memory, decay, and death. It was therefore appropriate that Nevelson created two memorials to the Holocaust.” In “Homage,” a triangular arrangement that evokes Ziggurat, contains two central circular forms (embedded inside square boxes) with rectangular forms inside that suggest crosses, or for the very creative viewer, perhaps swastikas.

Nevelson's The White Flame of the Six Million (1970-1), which is part of the Temple Beth-El sanctuary in Great Neck, clearly references the Holocaust, and was intended "to stimulate the imagination without disturbing meditation." This installation is a long, narrow white rectangular form, with such delicate forms (the “flames,” or perhaps better, vertical waves) that they could pass as cut paper.

Perhaps Rabbi Roland Gittelsohn, writing on Sky Covenant (1973) created for Temple Israel in Boston, described the Jewish significance of Nevelson's work best, noting that her boxes seem unrelated at first. "But as one pushed beyond the separate boxes to encompass the whole, almost imperceptibly an over-all design emerges, a plan, a purposeful blending," he wrote. "It is virtually impossible to focus for long only on the bottom rungs; irresistibly the eye is drawn upward, as our earthly oneness reaches up in aspiration toward the Divine Oneness. The Creation myth is a Jewish view of the universe in words. 'Sky Covenant' portrays a Jewish view of the universe in steel."

Perhaps critic John Haber, who sees “a lost library” in the wall units of Homage to 6,000,000, summed the current Jewish Museum show up best. “Her retrospective ... shows her on a more intimate scale, until her sense of time feels almost natural. It also explains why a woman born in 1899 had so much to do with art after 1960.”

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Menachem Wecker

Menachem Wecker, who blogs on faith and art for the Houston Chronicle at http://blogs.chron.com/iconia, welcomes comments at mwecker@gmail.com. He lives in Washington, D.C.