Sara Rybitski – Louise Nevelson’s Sky Cathedral

Sky Cathedral, Louise Nevelson, 1958

Finished in the year 1958, Sky Cathedral by Louise Nevelson would be the first of many large-
scale wall installations from the Russian sculptor who boldly took the stage to transform the
representation scope within the 1950’s. The sculpture made of arbitrary, scavenged pieces of
wood towers over its audience with dimensions of 9ft x 11ft, completely consuming the viewing
eye into a sea of black. Light bounces off the sharp edges and rounded corners to hint at the
objects without entirely exposing them for what they truly are in the dimmed gallery, making it
less about what is taking up the space and more about how the objects fit in each individual
space. In similar vein to Rorschach tests, the way in which one analyzes each grid square is
debated, and this brings out the hypothetical of what the viewer could and/or would fit in the slot.
Not only can the qualities of their original shapes be appreciated, but the capacity of light
shining on the sculpture affects the many shapes created by highlights and shadows. Looking
into every crevasse to uncover what might be lurking in the subconscious undoubtedly makes
Sky Cathedral about confrontation, specifically tackling the obstacle of confronting what we fear
or deem uncomfortable when going against the grain. It’s suspenseful yet hides a quality of
endearment that feels secretive and intimate.  

The themes of the uncanny are a perfect way to explore Nevelson’s work as it hosts a balance
between the eerie and the intriguing within us. The composition of Sky Cathedral can be tied to
common household furniture such as wardrobes, hutches, glass-paned cabinets and even
bookcases. Each of these items provide shelter and the safe keeping of belongings ranging
from casual books to priceless keepsakes–items so common that we hardly look at them with
admiration for their craftsmanship. Yet, Nevelson has preyed upon that familiarity and buried
attachment. The way the human psyche responds to the color black has consistently resulted in
the macabre and dread, and mystery and curiosity at the same time. Introducing a sculpture that
resembles a household object that often gets overlooked with an ominous matte black finish
sows the seed that there is a reason for obscurity. Our design by nature is to be curious, so by
looking further, the viewer is making themselves vulnerable and sacrificing their time in pursuit
of connecting the dots–finding the familiar, only to be met with no direct representation at all.
This is a direct feeling of uncanny that Sky Cathedral and Louise Nevelson’s vision projects,
paving the way to let everyone embrace the instinct of investigation and conversation.

Sky Cathedral is a wooden sculpture painted black by Louise Nevelson in 1958. It is currently on display at the Buffalo AKG Art Museum.