Dawn’s Column


Dawn's Column

Photographed by: Cindy Blackman


Louise Nevelson (American, 1899 – 1988),
Dawn’s Column, c. 1970 (Installed April 25, 1973)
Found objects and steel, on base: steel, concrete and pebbles
Location: Government Plaza
Collection of the City of Binghamton

Dawn’s Column, completed by Louise Nevelson in 1970 and installed in Binghamton’s Government Plaza in 1973, reflects the artist’s commitment to abstraction, her background in constructed sculpture, and her interest in imbuing her art with a sense of spirituality. Nevelson was influenced early in her career by the early twentieth century avant-garde art movements of Cubism, Surrealism and Geometric Abstraction, and Dawn’s Column bears marks of each of these influences. Like a cubist collage, Dawn’s Column  is as much about the spaces outside, within and around its forms as it is about the geometric forms themselves. According to Nevelson’s biographer, Laurie Lisle, the artist once boasted that “Picasso had resolved the cube, Mondrian had flattened it, and that she had endowed it with poetry;” Dawn’s Column is a tribute to this poetic manipulation of Cubist form. Witness, in this piece, the play of light and shadow across matte metal, and notice how it changes as you circumambulate the base. Think here of the sculpting of shadow as much as the sculpting of metal, and how these shadows constantly change throughout the day. The shadows themselves give the work an air of mystery, akin to Surrealism. Finally, although Nevelson’s composition of found objects might initially appear random, the work’s monochromatic finish unifies it, a technique Nevelson used often throughout her long and prolific career.

The rather stark and remote concrete plaza in downtown Binghamton might seem an out-of-place setting for a sculpture by a famous artist, but it actually accords with Nevelson’s life-long distrust of nature. The artist preferred the manmade to the organic; on her own property, she famously constructed a “garden” out of mechanical found objects in place of plants. The base of Dawn’s Column uses manmade materials to invoke the natural world. While the pedestal beneath most sculptures is only functional, the pedestal here includes thoughtfully placed white pebbles which against a dark ground of concrete, becomes a kind of “pool” reflecting the starry night sky. In place of an actual reflection caused by nature, Nevelson offers her own version, supplanting even Mother Nature, suggesting the ego for which she was famous.

Despite starting a career in art at a time when women artists were largely ignored, Nevelson—a Jewish immigrant from a small Russian village—succeeded to such a degree that examples of her own brand of “geometry and magic” can now be found in major collections around the globe. Nevelson’s unique approach to sculpture forced the art world to consider her work alongside famous male contemporaries like Alexander Calder and Henry Moore and earned her the title, “Grande Dame of Contemporary Sculpture.”

Researched by: Cindy Blackman

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