Louise Nevelson carved a place for herself in the annals of art history with her breakthrough sculptural environments—installations that invite the viewer into a comprehensive experience within and among several sculptural elements. Her early sculptural environments (such as Moon Garden + One and Dawn’s Wedding
Feast) were groundbreaking in the mid-20th century, and have since inspired generations of artists.
Gathering her material from the castoffs of everyday life—chair legs, cabinet doors, scraps of wood, and other quotidian “detritus”—Nevelson constructed an utterly unique view of the world that was strangely evocative of the unknown, yet instantly familiar.
Nevelson biographer, Laurie Wilson, speaks of a parallel between Nevelson’s childhood—fleeing the pogroms of her native Ukraine, experiencing as a Jewish refugee a sense of being discarded and unmoored herself—and her affinity for the castaway items that found their way into her works from the sidewalks and dustbins of New York. From that early experience of disenfranchisement, Nevelson came to claim a unique place in the art world and in her beloved New York City.
By the 1970s, Nevelson had captured the imagination and respect of the art community around the world. When Saint Peter’s approached her with the idea of a chapel that would be a place of quiet in the city, Nevelson was immediately intrigued. For Nevelson, the chapel would be “a holy place,” “a place for all people.” To her, there was “no distinction between a church and a synagogue. If you go deep enough into any religion you arrive at the same point of harmony.”
Nevelson’s sensibilities, her approach, and her undying belief in the spirit of New York were the ideal alchemy for accomplishing the vision of a chapel that would become the City’s oasis.
Working onsite to ensure that every element would be fully integrated, Nevelson created what she would come to call Chapel of the Good Shepherd, a work of nine substantial white and gold-leaf sculptures. This is the quintessential expression of Nevelson’s mastery—her grasp of how simple, familiar shapes and contours can touch the deeply-held memories and aspirations of the human spirit; her appreciation for the interplay of light and shadow, and her restraint in allowing these influences sufficient space within her own artistic vision.
Remarkable in its ability both to embrace and to transport the viewer, Nevelson Chapel provides a quietly dramatic counterpoint to the busyness of city life on the streets outside. And while other environments have been disassembled long ago, or are only available in temporary exhibitions, the Chapel remains—the artist’s only intact, comprehensive sculptural environment open and accessible to the public in its original permanent setting.
Now, Nevelson’s masterwork is in need of attention. Forty years on, it is a critical moment for the conservation of cultural heritage. Saint Peter’s has begun the multi-year process of reviving the artist’s original vision and ensuring that the Chapel lives on as Nevelson intended.
You are invited into a multi-phase campaign to renew and revitalize Nevelson Chapel, and with it her vision, ensuring that New York’s residents and visitors, students and artists, religious and non-religious pilgrims are welcomed and inspired by Nevelson for generations to come.