Recombination Dance

For Louise Nevelson, imitation was an affirmation that her style was worth repeating.

Noah Purifoy Outdoor Desert Art Museum, Joshua Tree, California Angella d’Avignon

Louise Nevelson called New York City her mirror. She trawled the streets of Manhattan for good bits of refuse, mostly wood, and dragged them back to her apartment, cleaned them in the bathtub, and fused them together, niches that she filled with microworlds composed of reclaimed elements like chair backs, shoehorns, fruit crates, and cornices. Nevelson preferred monochromatic schemes: Most of her sculptures were painted oil black, which she called the most aristocratic of the colors. She was obsessed with theaters and palaces. The art historian Julia Bryan-Wilson describes Nevelson as outside of time: She smoked cigarillos, referred to marriage as her greatest mistake, and eschewed the heteronormative standard of living in the midcentury United States. She preferred to live downtown with the bohemians, in what s…

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