Pillar Perfect: Louise Nevelson and Anne Truitt

Visitors exploring NMWA’s third-floor galleries may find themselves near two similarly shaped sculptures. Artists Louise Nevelson (1899–1988) and Anne Truitt (1921–2004) worked within different art movements but employed a similar column structure in their sculptures. Viewers can compare and contrast elements of the artists’ respective styles. While both works are abstract, it is interesting to investigate the progression from Louise Nevelson’s 1959 Abstract Expressionist work White Column (from Dawn’s Wedding Feast) to Anne Truitt’s 1971 Minimalist take on the column in Summer Dryad.

Louise Nevelson, White Column (from Dawn’s Wedding Feast), 1959; Painted wood, 110 x 15 1/2 x 12 1/2 in.; Gift of an anonymous donor; © 2012 Estate of Louise Nevelson / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York

Louise Nevelson, White Column (from Dawn’s Wedding Feast), 1959; Painted wood, 110 x 15 1/2 x 12 1/2 in.; Gift of an anonymous donor; © 2012 Estate of Louise Nevelson / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York

Both artists’ works set them apart in primarily male-dominated art movements. Nevelson (b. 1899, Kiev) rose to prominence as an Abstract Expressionist sculptor whose works also included a strong Cubist element. Nevelson developed her signature style of large, monochromatic assemblages to rival the scale of the canvases that many male Abstract Expressionists painted.

As Nevelson began to gain recognition, she was deemed unworthy of the attention by one critic, who stated, “We learned the artist is a woman, in time to check our enthusiasm…otherwise we might have hailed these sculptural expressions as by surely a great figure among moderns.” Nevelson continued to develop her practice, and as the scale of her sculptures grew, so did the respect of critics.

In a response to Abstract Expressionism, the 1960s saw the rise of Minimalism. Abstraction was pushed further into flatness and non-representation. Truitt (b. 1921, Maryland) created her sculptures with the geometric simplicity that characterized Minimalism.

Truitt made the style her own and separated herself from male artists through her use of expressive titles. Unlike most Minimalists, Truitt’s titles reference some level of iconography in her work, but she denies any direct representation, unlike Nevelson’s abstracted wedding figures.

Anne Truitt, Summer Dryad, 1971; Acrylic on wood; 76 x 13 x 8 inches; National Museum of Women in the Arts, Gift of the Holladay Foundation; © Anne Truitt

Anne Truitt, Summer Dryad, 1971; Acrylic on wood; 76 x 13 x 8 in.; National Museum of Women in the Arts, Gift of the Holladay Foundation; © Anne Truitt

Color plays a key role in each artist’s process. Both Nevelson and Truitt use color to evoke emotion and draw in viewers. However, the artists employ different palettes. Truitt’s works contain bright hues while Nevelson chose to envelop her works in matte shades of white or black.

Before coating Dawn’s Wedding Feast in a serene white, Nevelson primarily worked with black paint to communicate a feeling of enormity. White Column was created as one many sculptures meant to immerse the visitor in a white “wedding” in her installation Dawn’s Wedding Feast, part of the Museum of Modern Art’s 1959 exhibition 16 Americans.

Truitt applies multiple layers of paint to her geometric sculptures, creating clean, smooth surfaces. While her works vary in color, Summer Dryad’s bright green hue calls to mind elements of nature in the warmer seasons.

Visit NMWA and see these sculptures in the museum’s newly reinstalled collection galleries!

—Meghan Masius is the winter/spring 2017 publications and communications/marketing intern at the National Museum of Women in the Arts.

5 Fast Facts: Lee Krasner

Impress your friends with five fast facts about Lee Krasner, whose work is on view in Pathmakers: Women in Art, Craft, and Design, Midcentury and Today through February 28, 2015.

Lee Krasner (1908–1984)

1. Chicken or the Egg?

Krasner introduced her husband, artist Jackson Pollock, to influential artists and critics including Willem de Kooning and Clement Greenberg—not the other way around. Krasner helped create the “all-over” technique inspired by Piet Mondrian’s “grid,” which influenced Jackson Pollock’s revolutionary “drip paintings.”

Lee Krasner's The Springs, 1964, in NMWA's collection, refers to the village near East Hampton, on Long Island, where she and Jackson Pollock moved in 1945.

Lee Krasner, The Springs, 1964; Oil on canvas, 43 in. x 66 in. x 1 1/2 in.; NMWA, Gift of Wallace and Wilhelmina Holladay; © 2012 The Pollock-Krasner Foundation / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York

2. Home Springs Eternal

The title of The Springs refers to the town on Long Island where Krasner and Pollock lived and worked. After Krasner’s death, the house became The Pollock-Krasner House and Study Center. Paint used by both artists can be seen on the floorboards of their barn-turned-studio.

3. Anonymous was a Woman

Signing much of her work as “LK” or not at all, Krasner attempted to escape presumptions about femininity in the work of “women artists” and her ties to Pollock. In attempting to avoid identity politics, Krasner navigated her roles as woman, wife, and artist.

4. Waste Not, Want Not

Between 1953 and 1955, Krasner moved toward a collage style, creating new works by cutting apart discarded canvas of her own and Pollock’s, pasting the pieces on large color field paintings previously exhibited at Betty Parson’s New York gallery. Influenced by Matisse, Milkweed (1955) is a stunning example.

5. Go Figure

Known primarily for her contributions to Abstract Expressionism, Krasner did paint figural work early in her career. Though much of it has been destroyed, two self-portraits (1929 and 1930) remain from her time at the National Academy of Design in New York City.

—Brittany Fiocca was the summer 2015 education intern at the National Museum of Women in the Arts.