Monumental Work, Joyous Spirit

“Nevelson Chapel is once again looking like the beautiful environment that I have always carried in my mind’s eye. The color is especially luminous on the walls and harmonious with the whites of the work—more perfect than I thought was possible.

The team closest to the construction probably sees what is yet to be done. But I see what has been accomplished, which is both monumental in practical terms and joyful in spirit”

—Pamela Rausch, Founding Member, Nevelson Chapel Guild

Construction is not yet complete, but Nevelson Chapel is open to the public!

After the doors re-opened to the public, Pamela Rausch was among the first people to spend time within Nevelson’s masterwork. Pamela and her husband David are leadership donors and founding members of the Nevelson Chapel Guild.

After nearly ten months as a hard-hat, construction-crew-only zone, Nevelson Chapel is now once again a place where the general public can sit, heads uncovered, and have an experience similar to Pamela’s.

Nevelson’s sculptures are uncovered, too. Throughout the heaviest parts of construction these monumental works were protected in place behind tissue paper, plastic and plywood. Cross of the Good Shepherd and Grapes and Wheat Lintel, removed during construction, have been returned. Trinity Columns, cared for in this time by the Farnsworth Art Museum, will also return.

Please, come encounter Nevelson’s “oasis of silence,” which is now beginning to live its renewed life.

Drag the arrows left and right to see the before and after progress.

What has been accomplished

No longer connected to the building-wide HVAC system designed and implemented in 1977 for the whole of CitiCorp Center (tower, atrium, low rise and church), Nevelson Chapel now has its own dedicated system. No more will the Chapel suffer from too much cold air in the summer and too much hot air in the winter — none of it providing the right amount of relative humidity — all of it detrimental to the sculptures. The new, dedicated system allows the environment to be calibrated at temperatures and relative humidity settings that ensure long-term care of the sculptures within.

Gone are the grill vents that once blew cold and hot air directly on Sky Vestment and Frieze of the Apostles. Now a single air vent circulates air far away from any sculptures.

The failing incandescent light system from 1977 has been replaced by an energy efficient LED system. These new lights cast a consistent, warm glow over the entire sculpture and eliminate “hot spots” that were contributing to discoloration and damage of the paint. 

The fire-suppression system meets today’s building codes with a reduced number of sprinkler heads, resulting in less visual distraction.

Years and years of overpaint affected not only the sculptures, but also the walls. Forty years of paint has accumulated on once-smooth surfaces, making them bumpy and uneven. Once-harmonious sculpture/wall surfaces had become distracting to look at. Repair has allowed the structural walls to read to the eye as they first did in 1977: as an extension of the ceiling; flat and integral to the sculpture. And, walls and ceiling have a fresh coat of the proper paint color!

Largely off-view to the public is the Chapel office where exquisite Vignelli-designed millwork has been refurbished and preserved. Practical as well as beautiful, the office also houses above its ceiling the brains and inner workings of the new, dedicated HVAC system and lighting control center.

A discerning eye will likely pick up a few more elements. When you visit, take a photo and share your experience on instagram tagging @nevelson_chapel #louisenevelson #nevelsonchapelrenewed

We’re not done yet!

Anyone who has been involved with New York City construction knows it is notoriously slow. What we have learned is that construction is even slower for small, not-for-profit projects. The interrelated process for renewal of Nevelson Chapel is now almost five months behind schedule. We are actively recalibrating the timeline for art conservation and the timeline for much-needed continued fundraising. Watch for news of plans for 2020.

The delay is the result of more than simply the glacial pace of not-for-profit NYC construction. Certain as-built conditions from 1977 discovered during construction prompted us to design models and run tests to determine how these historic conditions will interact with the systems being installed in 2019.

Among these elements is our envelope — the vapor barriers that surround Nevelson Chapel. We have ensured that the structural walls can withstand humidification tolerances when the outside temperature drops well below freezing.

We have designed and re-designed, tested and re-tested the Chapel doors, the “store front” window and the skylight. With a few more tweaks we will ensure that the engineering sustains the environmental goals while at the same time preserves the historic, landmarked elements of the 1977 design (Surprise! Here too, as-built conditions are different from the original drawings.).

Boston Properties — Nevelson Chapel’s corporate neighbor and partner — has been immensely helpful coordinating with the New York City Landmark Preservation Commission to allow for a new, exterior air louver for the HVAC system. A temporary grill is in place while the permanent one is being manufactured.

Of the list of elements remaining to be complete in this construction phase, there is the detailed “punch list” worthy of the most important of projects. We want to ensure every element is in the absolute right place and every finish is correct. Details are in Nevelson Chapel’s DNA. Our original design team is high modernism’s most detail-oriented — Louise Nevelson, Massimo and Lella Vignelli, Easley Hamner and Hugh Stubbins — and the entire renewal team is dedicated to the same high standard.

Over the course of the next few months, the path toward long-term conservation of the artworks and sustainable environmental management will come more and more into focus. The new HVAC system will be commissioned and the artwork carefully monitored. Sometime next year the art conservator will begin the next phase of art conservation — cleaning off layers of overpaint and filling and toning losses.

Until then, we’ll keep working to conserve Nevelson Chapel and we are delighted it is re-opened. Filled with your visits, your encouragement, your support — together, we will continue Renewing a Masterwork.


Follow @nevelson_chapel on Instagram for daily photos.

Nevelson Legacy Council