Wednesday, August 8, 2007

Louise Nevelson

I'm writing an article on the Louise Nevelson retrospective at the Jewish Museum (up through September 16th), which is, as I might have mentioned, a jewel—not too many pieces, gorgeously and thoughtfully installed, not a lesson in process, but simply an effort to create an atmosphere and to show the work at its best. I interviewed Nevelson a few months before she died in 1988, for an article for Art & Antiques (when Jeff Shaire was editor and it was a good magazine) about how four artists—Nevelson, Nam June Paik, James Rosenquist and George Segal—found their artistic voices. Initially I’d intended to include Helen Frankenthaler, but she was such a pill during the interview and photo shoot that all of us—me, the photo editor, and Duane Michals, the photographer (who she kept waiting for 45 minutes while she primped)—agreed she didn’t deserve a spot in the magazine.

Nevelson was willing, and I admit to being a bit nervous about the interview—especially after the Frankenthaler debacle—and Nevelson from afar was a forceful and intimidating character. While Duane was setting up his equipment in her house, which was spooky, like a great big Nevelson installation, we chatted—she told me we had plenty of time, until 6:00 when the “Alexander man” came. I asked if she was studying the Alexander Technique (a hands-on method, popular with dancers and actors, that focuses on the best use of the body), and it turned out we were both studying with the same teacher, Tom Lemens. After that we were like two buddies, and at the end she told me that the only regret she had in her life was that she hadn’t been able to achieve a long-lasting and satisfying relationship with a man. Nevelson asked who else I was writing about and when I mentioned George Segal, she said, “Such a nice man. But that wife of his, she scares me.” George and Helen Segal were friends of mine, and I remember, when I first met her, being frightened by Helen’s abrupt attitude as well. A few days later I ran into them at an opening and told Helen, “Louise Nevelson says you scare her.” Helen said, “Good.”

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