Louise Nevelson is undoubtedly one of the titans of modern sculpture, but I always found her best-known works to be a bit staid. Grids of interlocking boxes populated with all manner of geometric shapes painted black or white all over, they seemed regimented and a bit coffin-like. This exhibition at L&M; Arts focuses on her work from the 1970s and breathes new life into her legacy.
Most of the works are large wall pieces. While still rectangular and matte black, their constituent shapes have broken free of the grid, interlocking and overlapping in a way that is almost painterly.
The shapes are larger and more recognizable — a turned table leg, the back of a chair — and while they still have a funereal air, they are also united in an insistent, percussive rhythm. The thick wooden forms appear to move through and against each other in a kind of dance. Blending the domestic, the industrial and the corporeal, they are at once tableaux, machines and tombs.
Another welcome surprise is Nevelson’s collages, several of which incorporate pieces of cardboard against which she spray-painted parts of her sculptures. In this sense they are like the shadows of the black objects, pure contours assembled with a Matisse-like eye for pattern and visual rhymes.
They bear witness to her process, and capture a kind of dirty glamour, juxtaposing worn cardboard with shiny gold paper; delicate cutouts with dingy scraps of fabric. For Nevelson, a no-nonsense sculptor known for her glamorous outfits and fake eyelashes, they seem about right.
L&M; Arts, 660 S. Venice Blvd., Venice, (310) 821-6400, through May 11. Closed Sundays and Mondays. www.lmgallery.com