Just one more box

By Rufus Foshee | Feb 11, 2010
Photo by: Jack Horton This photo was taken in August 1961 by Jack Horton when Louise Nevelson, left, then 62, was in Amagansett, N.Y., visiting Horton and Rufus Foshee, right, in a cottage the men shared. This photo has never appeared in any of the books about Nevelson.

I met Louise Nevelson on Dec. 19, 1959, when "Dawn's Wedding Feast" was first shown to the art public at New York's Museum of Modern Art. She grabbed my hand and said, "... let's go to the bar." We did. Little did I know where that trip to the bar would lead for the rest of my life.

A year and a half later she refused to go to Boston for the opening of her exhibition at the tiny Pace Gallery unless I would accompany her. We had become very close. We both stayed at the Ritz Carlton where, in those days, rooms were $15. Two of Nevelson's lifelong declarations were "I want to cut my throat" and "I want to jump out the window." She was then 62. She resisted doing either, dying in her own bed at 88 in 1987.

I had not then learned how histrionic she could be and that night in Boston in her room, she kept waving a bottle of scotch from which she was drinking and threatening to jump out the window. If I had not been a little scared as well as amused, I might have left her to her vice. Instead, I stayed up all night listening in wonderment to where this might go. I realized much later that this was not a Boston binge but a lifelong habit.

She hadn't met Arnold Glimcher then. He had Nevelson's work on consignment from the Martha Jackson Gallery in New York. Later I took him to see Nevelson in her home at 29 Spring St. in New York. The key was that he nearly sold out the show in Boston, where Jackson had been able to sell little. Whether he actually sold the work, or bought it, was not clear to me. That Nevelson did not get a penny was not the point. She was paid $40,000 a year by Jackson for exclusive representation.

Then what would become Pace Gallery and eventually Pace/Wildenstein was only a dream in Glimcher's head. While Nevelson knew she was a great artist, both fame, and more to the point, riches, alluded her. It took another decade of sharp shooting promotion before Nevelson became Pace's darling and Pace was able to provide both the fame and the money she had so hungered for.

A move from Boston to New York was required. Glimcher wasted no time in opening a gallery on New York's West 57 St., opening with a Nevelson exhibition in November 1964. It was not a solid success for Nevelson. It was a time when she was experimenting with combining plexiglass into her constructions, an effort that did not fly.

But Nevelson and Glimcher had made a marriage and it was one that went on for the duration of her life, which was another 23 years. Now 23 years later, Glimcher still controls the Nevelson estate, but not without problems. When she died at 88 in 1987, he pumped up the value of her work so high that the estate became bankrupt because there was no money to pay the taxes.

Glimcher had made a great deal of money because he had been able to convince many cities that the thing for their streets was a huge cor-ten steel outdoor Nevelson, which made both Glimcher and Nevelson rich. But it did not advance her innovations as an artist. Perhaps the most unsuccessful of these works is a huge one in the most conspicuous of all places, New York's Park Avenue.

Eventually, perhaps through the influence of Chief Curator at the Museum of Modern Art Dorothy Miller, David Rockefeller provided what came to be known as Nevelson Plaza, a triangular space located on New York's Williams Street, where Maiden Lane and Pearl Street meet. It is now undergoing major reconstruction that will go on into the summer of 2010.

What promises to become the most important Nevelson construction in Maine is a large black one just given by the Lunders to the Colby College Museum. The Lunders showed up at Art Basel in Miami where the piece was available and they snapped it up for their growing collection at Colby. How fortunate to have Maine collectors willing and able to continue making such gifts to Colby.

As encouraging as the Lunder gift to Colby is, it leaves the Farnsworth Art Museum, in Nevelson's American hometown, without one of her major constructions -- not in black, not in white, not in gold. It reminds one that the Van Gogh Museum in Arles, France, does not have a Van Gogh work, a sharp reminder of how high pretensions tend to run.

A Rockport friend who talks in a cutting edge manner recently said: "Just think one day when there are excavations in Rockland, how surprised they will be to learn that there was a Dutch school of painting there."

Whether or when the Farnsworth board may take up this challenge of getting a major Nevelson work in the museum is anyone's guess. Within the foreseeable future, Dr. Laurie Wilson's biography of Nevelson will appear, bringing the first in depth study of the work of the artist to the public. This event will bring further attention to Rockland, Nevelson's hometown, not having any of her best work.

It is not a matter of there not being capable potential donors of Nevelson's work to the Farnsworth. It is a matter of choosing priorities. It is a matter of whether the board wishes the museum to be a repository for more Wyeth works.

Neither is it a matter of lack of world renown. In every great place where great contemporary art is displayed, Nevelson is there.

Rufus Foshee lives in Camden.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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