Construction Underway!

After years of preparation, research and planning, a new phase has begun in the work of renewing and preserving Nevelson Chapel for the future. A team of highly skilled professionals—engineers, architects, technical consultants, designers and sustainability experts—convened for a kick-off meeting on Thursday, November 15 to begin the six-month initiative to upgrade the environmental conditions of the Chapel’s interior and surrounding envelope.

Louise Nevelson’s nine white and gold leaf sculptures, which have been meticulously prepared for this moment by Sarah Nunberg and her team of conservators, are now secured in protective crates, sealed with plastic, cushioned with tissue paper and hibernating-in-place as work begins around them.

Under the leadership of project managers Works-in-Progress, construction is now under way to address the critical issues of air flow, lighting, temperature and humidity control, and structural stability.

A critical first step is salvaging existing elements from the space, including air conditioning grills, a sample lighting fixture, and the original doors. These elements will be archived in accordance with a long-term conservation plan and in an ongoing effort to honor the comprehensive creative vision of “the grandmother of environmental installations” — Nevelson and those luminaries she collaborated with to create this space.

Every member of the team is deeply concerned about protecting the sculptures throughout the process and maintaining the integrity of Nevelson’s comprehensive sculptural environment. As one team member expressed it, “We are all here to be as kind to the sculpture as possible, providing stability in the environment for years to come.” Demolition is being completed largely by hand, with the use of as few power tools as possible.

A staging area for the project has been set up in the adjacent office (itself an architectural gem designed by Lella and Massimo Vignelli), and weekly meetings will ensure that all aspects of the project are coordinated for the greatest efficiency and with the utmost care.

During the time of active demolition and reconstruction, Nevelson Chapel is closed to visitors, as the work area is unsafe for non-professionals. Live updates, photos and important milestones will be shared here, and on Instagram. As work progresses, plans for the reopening of the Chapel to the public will be announced.

Significant funding for this mechanical phase of the conservation plan is underwritten by the nation’s leading conservation champion, the Sustaining Cultural Heritage Program of the National Endowment for the Humanities. One reader from the NEH selection committee said this about the comprehensive approach:

“I continue to believe that this is an excellent implementation grant. They [the multidisciplinary team] have done considerable work in their planning phase and it is highly likely that they will have a successful implementation. I believe this project will have an excellent return on investment for NEH.”

With this ringing endorsement and the capable leadership, passionate commitment and expertise of the team, the results of the years-long process to preserve New York City’s “hidden gem” is sure to honor Louise Nevelson’s vision and provide a place of perpetual calm and contemplation for generations to come.

Kyle Lasky