Like its counterpart (the dark and imposing Luminous Zag: Night in the collection of the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum in New York), Louise Nevelson’s Floating Cloud Zag II is an assemblage of found and salvaged wooden materials repurposed into a strikingly Modern organization. Moldings, dowels, spindles, chair parts, architectural ornaments, and scroll-sawed fragments are compartmentalized into individual cases, organized according to their formal properties. A monochromatic coat of white paint transforms the assemblage into a ghostly monolithic form that helps focus attention on to 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.
Unlike its sister work in the Guggenheim, Floating Cloud Zag II is painted white, which allows the sculpture to achieve its titular reference and almost float off the surface of the wall. Within the nine smaller cube-like compartments that line the upper and right side, Nevelson has placed a number of circular objects that complement their square frame. A series of five additional cases are long and slim with some jutting out from the flat plane of the sculpture’s surface to add an extra dimension to the otherwise flat front of a sculpture. 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 but have been disconnected from their larger forms and functions. In this respect, Nevelson’s Floating Cloud Zag II is indebted equally to the faceted Cubist sculpture of Picasso as much as she is to the compartmentalized found objects of Joseph Cornell.
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 which approaches the qualities of painting by maintaining a relationship to the wall.