Louise Nevelson Light and Shadow

Laurie Wilson

The most complete biography of the iconic sculptor Louise Nevelson based on hours of interviews conducted at the height of Nevelson’s fame.

In 1929, Louise Nevelson was a disappointed housewife with a young son, surrounded by New York’s vibrant artistic community but unable to fully engage with it. By 1950, she was an artist living on her own, financially dependent on her family, but she had received a glimmer of recognition from the establishment: inclusion in three group shows at the Whitney Museum of American Art. In 1980, Nevelson celebrated her second Whitney retrospective. Her work was held in public collections aroundthe world and her massive steel sculptures appeared in public spaces in seventeen states.

The story of Nevelson’s artistic, spiritual, even physical transformation (she developed a taste for outrageous outfits and false eyelashes made of mink) is inseparable from major historical and cultural shifts of the twentieth century. Art historian and psychoanalyst Laurie Wilson brings a unique perspective to Nevelson’s story, drawing on hours of interviews she conducted with Nevelson and her circle. Over one hundred images, many of them drawn from personal archives and never before published, make this the most comprehensive biography—both in terms of visuals and narrative detail—of this remarkable artist.


In Louise Nevelson: Light and Shadow, Laurie Wilson maps Nevelson's art onto [her] complicated personal history. As an art historian and psychoanalyst, the author probes into her subject's inner life, especially the conscious and unconscious themes that animate the artwork. Numerous interviews, conducted with a wide range of sources, are the book's strength. One of the revelations of Wilson's volume is how hard Nevelson worked to produce art and to have that art recognized.

— Art in America

Separating truth from myth, a perceptive investigation into the "larger than life" American original, Louise Nevelson. A fascinating read for someone who knew her well.

— Arne Glimcher, founder of Pace Gallery

A much-needed, comprehensive biography of a great American artist. Wilson, an art historian and practicing psychoanalyst, is perfectly suited to write this intimate, revealing biography of the artist she interviewed many times and considers "one of the greatest American artists of the twentieth-century."

— Kirkus Reviews

This capacious, precisely detailed biography, the first in a quarter-century, was a long time in the making and consequently brims with diligently mined and carefully weighed revelations. Wilson’s fascinating, well-illustrated explication of Nevelson’s artistic quest reignites appreciation for the profound complexity, evocative beauty, and mystical power of her work.

— Booklist (starred review)

In this biography of Ukrainian-born American sculpture artist Louise Nevelson, famous for her work with shadow boxes and black wooden walls, Wilson, a practicing psychoanalyst who teaches at NYU, uses her professional expertise to explore the inner life and motivations of the artist and her artwork. Wilson details the artist’s eccentricities and places Nevelson’s success in the context of the 1970s, specifically the male-dominated contemporary art scene in N.Y.C. Her descriptions of Nevelson’s art are vivid, carefully observed, and insightful.

— Publishers Weekly

The depth and beauty of this book is extraordinary. I lived with Louise Nevelson for almost twenty-five years and never asked questions that I thought would be intrusive. Laurie Wilson’s brilliant biography answers those questions with remarkable insight.

— Diana Mackown, Nevelson's longtime assistant and friend

Based on primary sources—especially unpublished interviews with the artist, her family, friends, and dealers— Laurie Wilson presents new information, adroitly separates fact from fiction, and reveals the complex personality of a much admired but little understood artist.

— Valerie J. Fletcher, art historian and curator

Laurie Wilson finds a delicate and delicious balance between art history and psychoanalysis in this authoritative, exhaustive biography. With an opulence that Nevelson herself would have admired, Wilson proclaims her subject’s genius and sculpts a permanent place for Nevelson alongside her most admired contemporary, Pablo Picasso.

— Vera Camden, Professor of Psychiatry and English Literature

Reads like a thriller with the hero, art, as savior… This compelling biography examines Nevelson’s inner life, and portrays her as an artist, woman, and complex human being. It is fascinating to read how she cultivated her image and rose to prominence in what was the macho art world of her time with her evolved and original works. Wilson’s refreshing account also includes Nevelson’s inspirational friends—many of them women—from the movers and shakers of her era. At last a major, yet inclusive, work in the genre of Art History!

— Jane McAdam Freud, sculptor


Laurie Wilson


Laurie Wilson is an art historian and practicing psychoanalyst on the faculty of the Psychoanalytic Association of New York affiliated with NYU School of Medicine. Her involvement with Nevelson dates back to the 1970s, when she spent fifteen hours interviewing the artist for her doctoral dissertation, Louise Nevelson: Iconography and Sources, which was subsequently published in the series Outstanding Dissertations in the Fine Arts. She has also written over a dozen chapters, articles, and essays on Nevelson.