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Property from an American Collection

Floating Cloud VII

Floating Cloud VII
wood construction, painted white
67 ½ x 59 x 7 ½ in. (171.5 x 149.9 x 19.1 cm.)
Executed in 1977.
Pace Gallery, New York
Hokin Gallery, Palm Beach
Acquired from the above by the present owner, 1981
Wichita, Edwin A. Ulrich Museum of Art, Louise Nevelson: Sculptures and Graphics, September-October 1978.
Phoenix Art Museum; Seattle Art Museum; Winnipeg Art Gallery; Iowa City, University of Iowa Museum of Art and Dayton Art Institute, Louise Nevelson: The Fourth Dimension, January 1980-January 1981, p. 60 (illustrated).

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Lot Essay

Sometimes it’s the material that takes over; sometimes it’s me that takes over. I permit them to play, like a seesaw. I use action and counteraction, like in music, all the time. Action and counteraction. It was always a relationship—my speaking to the wood and the wood speaking back to me.
—Louise Nevelson

Louise Nevelson’s Floating Cloud VII is a breathtaking assemblage of found and salvaged wooden materials reconstructed into a strikingly Modern organization and a pinnacle example of her most revered output. Widely exhibited in the artist’s lifetime, including in the critically acclaimed Louise Nevelson: Sculpture and Graphics exhibition at the Edwin A. Ulrich Museum of Art in Wichita and the travelling exhibition Louise Nevelson: The Fourth Dimension, the present work does just that—invites the viewer into an exploration of depth, contrast, abstraction and illusion—another dimension.
Dowels, moldings, knobs, spindles, hinges, architectural ornaments and fragments are effortlessly compartmentalized into individual cases, naturally organized according to their formal properties. Soft curves and sharp angles, a monochromatic coat of white paint transforms the varying edges and angles of the assemblage into a ghostly monolithic form—focusing attention on the variety of forms and shapes collected, assembled and displayed within. In this way, Nevelson updates the Dada-inspired display systems of Joseph Cornell, embellishing the compositions with abstraction. The viewer is asked to see past the individual parts, taken out of their natural utilitarian context, and instead see them as a collective and abstract whole, a nod to the Abstract Expressionist era in which she was rooted and raised.
Painted in bright white, Floating Cloud VII achieves its titular reference as floating off the surface of the wall, toying with the eye like the work of Surrealist masters. Within the smaller cube-like compartments that line the left side, Nevelson has placed a number of circular objects that complement their square frame. Symmetrical and rhythmic in their placement, each cube presents a slight variation as your eye cascades up and down with excitement. Juxtaposed by the vertical composition of the right side, the central composition extends outwards, jutting out from the flat plane and adding an extra dimension to the otherwise flat front of the sculpture. The placement of quotidian hinges on the outermost edge not only calls to mind the many repurposed parts that summate the whole of this work, but eludes to an opening, perhaps a door, and to boundless and abstract possibility. The contrast between flatness, relief, recessed and extended forms, as well as the juxtaposition of straight lines and curves point to things in the world that have been disconnected from their larger forms and functions. In this respect, Nevelson’s Floating Cloud VII is indebted equally to the faceted Cubist sculpture of Picasso, the compartmentalized found objects of Cornell and the Surrealist imagination of Magritte.
Nevelson’s hypnotic forms have their roots in the classes she took at the Art Students League of New York where she was taught by renowned painters like Hans Hofmann, who himself was organizing his painted canvases into blocks of color. Their presence in New York would influence a new generation of American painters such as Mark Rothko, Barnett Newman and Jackson Pollock, but Nevelson would channel her work into new forms of sculpture, albeit sculpture that approaches the qualities of painting by maintaining a relationship to the wall.

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