Two Extraordinary Gifts to Campaign for Nevelson Chapel

Saint Peter’s Church has received two significant grants for the ground-breaking restoration of Louise Nevelson’s 1977 masterwork Chapel of the Good Shepherd. Located in the heart of New York City, the work is installed within the City’s youngest modernist landmark, Citigroup Center, and is colloquially known as Nevelson Chapel. 

The Henry Luce Foundation has awarded $250,000 to the project and the National Endowment for the Humanities has awarded $350,000. Each grant is prominent on its own. The receipt of both, together, is remarkable. 

The Henry Luce Foundation rarely provides art conservation funding, doing so only for projects considered to be exceptionally important. The National Endowment for the Humanities awards grants to top-rated proposals examined by panels of independent, external reviewers. The Endowment’s Sustaining Cultural Heritage program selected Nevelson Chapel as one of only 14 cultural heritage collections to be funded this year. 

To garner not simply one or the other of these distinguished grants, but both, is a testament to Nevelson’s singular artistic achievement and her place in the history of art and the country. Similarly, this pair of grants points to the extraordinary quality of the restoration underway for Nevelson’s masterwork. 


Objects Conservation Studio’s Sarah Nunberg and students from Pratt Institute are setting down flaking and tenting surfaces with a funori adhesive aimed at preserving Nevelson’s original paint surface lodged below several layers of well-meaning, but detrimental, “restoration” overpaint applied through the 1980s, 1990s and into the 2000s. Nunberg and her team have also begun treating these now-stable overpainted wood surfaces with an innovative cleaning system developed in Florence, revealing Nevelson’s original paint for the first time in decades. 

Nevelson Chapel’s art conservation approach is innovative among prior approaches to her complex sculptures and their sensitive condition. Whereas other caretakers have entirely removed “restoration” overpaint as well as Nevelson’s original, replacing both with entirely new paint, the multistep process designed by Nunberg will avoid such invasive and irreversible measures. 


The planned environmental management system is similarly distinct. Unlike other organizations that have removed Nevelson’s delicate installations from public view, Saint Peter’s Church is committed to maintaining the environment as she intended it: open and accessible to tens of thousands of Midtown workers and residents, international tourists, and students of the arts and humanities. 

While respecting the historic architecture of the room, systems will be introduced to regulate temperature and humidity to meet ASHRAE Control Class B (30 to 50% Relative Humidity in winter, 40 to 60% Relative Humidity in summer) targets. Existing vents will be eliminated and replaced with a low-profile airflow system nearly invisible to the eye and carefully regulated to avoid blowing directly on sculptural elements. Windows will be replaced with proper UV filters. An energy efficient LED lighting system will mimic the historic lighting while employing the latest technologies. 

While specific energy savings cannot be predicted with any certainty because the current system is neither sized nor metered for the space, reasonable assumptions hold that: 1) the installed systems will operate more efficiently due to forty years of technical advancement in heating, cooling, and ventilating systems, with efficiency as a priority over the last decade, and 2) the design for wider-ranging temperature parameters will use less energy than in the original design with traditional, human-comfort approach. 

The multidisciplinary environmental management team includes Jane Greenwood with Jamie Downie and Marian Prado of Kostow Greenwood Architects; Michael Ambrosino of ADS Engineers; Michael Henry of Watson & Henry Associates; Ryoko Nakamura of LOOP Lighting; Dominick Pilla and Elise Martos of Dominick R. Pilla Structural Engineer Associates; Stephen Short of Lite-Trol Lighting Control Service and Sarah Sutton of Sustainable Museums. The project is being managed by Debra Inwald with Christine Wahba and Jigme Pokwal of Works-in-Progress Associates. 

The public is encouraged to view the work now, as construction will begin October 15, 2018. Nevelson Chapel will reopen thereafter in Spring 2019, and undergo continued art restoration. 

The $5.7 million initiative includes complete conservation of hundreds of wooden pieces Nevelson assembled on-site, the comprehensive sustainable environmental upgrade and endowment monies. One endowment will ensure regular conservation and maintenance will be carried out as planned. A second endowment will fund programming to ensure Nevelson Chapel continues to touch the lives of the general public into the future. In addition to gifts from the Luce Foundation and the National Endowment for the Humanities, leadership gifts are being secured from other foundations and individual givers to be announced Fall 2018.

Saint Peter's Church