Material Worlds

At the weekend I visited the new Material Worlds wing at Tate Modern.


The work on show features artists who utilise all kinds of materials, often in larger scale installations. These included found objects, natural materials, textiles stitched in secret locations and even endless ropes of human hair.


Sheela Gowda,  Behold  2009

Sheela Gowda, Behold 2009

Magdalena Abakanowicz,  Embyology   1978–80

Magdalena Abakanowicz, Embyology 1978–80


I was most excited to see work by one of my favourite artists, Louise Nevelson, in this new exhibit!


Louise Nevelson   " An American Tribute to the British People" 1960–4 Painted wood, 3110 x 4424 x 920 mm  

Louise Nevelson "An American Tribute to the British People" 1960–4 Painted wood, 3110 x 4424 x 920 mm 


This piece was gifted by Nevelson in 1965, titled "An American Tribute to the British People", Nevelson's her dealer said that the artist felt that it was appropriate for our monarchial country:

"Its cathedral-like aspect, which seems to present the viewer with an altar at which to kneel, perhaps to receive some royal blessing, and its gilded splendor … were considered peculiarly appropriate.’

Originally born in Czarist Russia, Nevelson lived most of her life in New York, and was heavily influenced by her surroundings. This glorious gold sculpture also reminds me of the iconic cities luxurious sky scrapers.

Art Deco plaque of the Empire State Building, New York.

Art Deco plaque of the Empire State Building, New York.

The display caption tells us that Nevelson worked on this assemblage over a number of years, continually recomposing the found objects within it. Close-up it reminds me of the stacks of old paintings in gilt frames in auctions and junk shops. The golden coating they share emphasises the sense of a treasured item from another time. Covered and gathered they display an inherent value despite being cast away when no longer valued individually.


I first found Nevelson's work when I was at school and instantly captivated by her impressive structures. 


Growing up in a home where nothing was thrown away, I would scavenge interesting bits of wood from piles of timber and broken furniture in my dad's workshop and in Nevelson's sculptures I could identify the balustrades and chair legs amidst the hand sculpted pieces. 

The way she used a single colour to envelope her carefully assembled finds into these impressive structures had a huge impact on me. Nevelson liked black paint because it conjured "totality, peace and greatness." 


Louise Nevelson  Black Wall  1959. Painted wood 2642x2165x648mm

Louise Nevelson Black Wall 1959. Painted wood 2642x2165x648mm

There is such sensitivity in her compositions.







As the New York was redeveloped in the 1950's Nevelson faced eviction from her home and studio. The partially demolished buildings left detritus left from everyday lives, and she found her materials in the debris.

Some of her arrangements like Black Wall,  remind me of the different people living in apartments.

Harking back to the crowded cities like New York I can imagine these wooden boxes as a neighbourhood of personalities housed in different rooms. 

A community is made up of individuals. Living next to each other, but separated by these divides they are shown that they are all one.

If you are one of those inside it you can only see yourself and the four walls around you. Only we can see they are all unified by being able to look at the whole thing from a wider perspective.




The new Material Worlds wing is free & on now at Tate Modern.