Work of Art: Black Zag CC
Louise Nevelson
American (born Ukraine)
Black Zag CC
1964-1971, final addition 1977
Painted wood construction with fabricated, found, and bought elements; wire and metal hardware; and Formica frame
48 x 59 x 9 in. (121.9 x 149.9 x 22.9 cm)
Purchased with funds from the National Endowment for the Arts and the North Carolina State Art Society (Robert F. Phifer Bequest)
© 2012 Estate of Louise Nevelson / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York

Impressed by Joseph Cornell's early constructions (which she called "magic"), Louise Nevelson went her own way with the idea. She filled lidless boxes with salvaged goods and stacked them on their sides in savvy configurations. In the late 1950s she made her first all-black sculptures and in the '60s produced a series of complicated wall reliefs-boxes laden with all manner of objects aggregated in an irregularly outlined whole. She called them Zags.

Nevelson put the Zags together in the additive manner of cubist collage and with the zest of abstract expressionist painting. (Employing discards found on New York's streets, Nevelson's art describes a cityscape as valid as Franz Kline's abstract painted version.) Trying to identify the individual components in this Zag-chair back, printer's box, drawer pulls, architectural molding, workshop scraps, as well as the quasi-geometric shards the artist fabricated herself-immerses one in the work. It is equally important to contemplate the assemblage as a whole. Each independent compartment relates to the others by the rhythmic repetition of similar shapes. By masking every surface in black, Nevelson unifies the disparate objects, elevating a collection of bric-a-brac into its own mysterious, shadowy world.

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