Park Avenue Malls

Night Presence IV

This text is part of Parks’ Historical Signs Project and can be found posted within the park.

One of a series of sculptures by esteemed artist Louise Nevelson (1899–1988), this massive, undulating assemblage of welded Cor-Ten steel was given by the artist to the City to commemorate her 50th year of living and working in New York. At the dedication of Night Presence IV in 1973, Nevelson remarked that “New York represents the whole of my conscious life and I thought it fitting that I should give it something of myself.” At first temporarily sited at 60th Street and Fifth Avenue in 1972, the piece now is permanently displayed in Manhattan’s Park Avenue Malls at 92nd Street. Other Night Presence sculptures are included in the collections of the San Diego Museum of Art and the University of Wisconsin’s Elvehjem Museum in Madison.

Nevelson was a pioneer in contemporary sculpture and a leading public artist. Now considered one of America’s foremost modern sculptors, she was a participant in Sculpture in Environment (1967), the groundbreaking group show of contemporary art in New York City’s parks. Her assemblages, made of wood, steel, and found materials, are in numerous public and private collections. New York City, her adopted home, was a constant source of inspiration, and ultimately became an outdoor museum for several of her monumental pieces, including Night Presence IV.

Nevelson was born Louise Berliawasky in Kiev, Russia. When she was four years old, her family moved to Rockland, Maine, and feeling alienated in this New England seacoast town, she adapted by cultivating her artistic inclinations. In 1920 she married Charles Nevelson and moved to New York, where she gave birth to a son. When their son was nine, Nevelson left her family to study painting in Europe, and was exposed to avant-garde trends in Germany and France. Upon returning to the United States, Nevelson met Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera. Nevelson assisted Rivera, and witnessed what it meant to be a celebrated artist.

She taught art classes for the Works Progress Administration 1935 to 1939, and took up sculpture. Her first one-person show was held at the Nierendorf Gallery in New York in 1941. By the mid-1950s Nevelson’s box-like sculptural collages were receiving critical attention, and in 1959 she was featured in a Museum of Modern Art exhibit on contemporary American artists.

In the 1970s, feminist theorists began to uncover subtext in Nevelson’s work, and the artist herself asserted her work’s feminine origins, describing it as “delicate, like needlework,” but Nevelson’s art also draws on the external dynamism of the cityscape. Commenting on how New York informed her artistic vision, she said, “Now if you take a car…and you come down on the West Side Highway toward evening or toward morning, when the buildings are silhouetted . . . you will see that many of my works are real reflections of the city.”

In 1977 seven of Nevelson’s sculptures, entitled Shadows and Flags, were installed in a plaza in the financial district, and the former Legion Memorial Square was renamed in honor of Nevelson--a tribute to an artist for whom New York had provided so much creative sustenance, and who gave back so much.

Photo of Night Presence IV sculpture on the Park Avenue malls

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