Louise Nevelson, Donna Karan, sculpture and package design

Nevelson DKNYYesterday was one of those perfect days, rare so far this summer in our part of the country. And a visit to The Storm King Art Center was another reminder of how glorious large sculpture, placed well in the landscape, can be.

If you are not familiar with Storm King it is one of the most comprehensive collections of late 20th century sculpture, set on 500 acres of amazingly prepared (I hesitate to say landscaped because of the light touch) rolling fields and woodland, about an hour north of New York. It includes works by David Smith, Henry Moore, Mark di Suvero, Calder, Serra, Goldsworthy, Lin, and many others.

Near the main building is a wonderful large piece by Louise Nevelson (shown in the lower left of the image above), and it got me wondering what kind of packaging she might have designed if she had been asked.

The Nevelson sculpture also got me reminiscing about a Saturday sculpture class I took in high school with Louise Nevelson’s son, Mike. I worked, basically ignored, outside in the snow all winter long because they were smart enough not to want a high school kid fooling around with an acetylene torch in their new fine arts building. He worked inside keeping warm beside the still lifes and nude models.

After a number of weeks I asked him to come out and see the 3 or 4 pieces I was working on. I’ll never forget the moment, he circled them in silence for a few minutes, pushing and pulling them the way a doctor checks your reflexes. Then looked up and quietly said ” I don’t think I can teach you a thing”. That was it. And I am left to this day not knowing exactly what he might have really meant. I have always assumed the best, but who knows.

Package design by artists and sculptors is rare but not unheard of. In 1911 the Paris couturier Paul Poiret enlisted the help of Raoul Dufy, Man Ray and Edward Steichen. A few years later, Francois Coty had Leon Bakst create a powder box inspired by his sets for the Ballets Russes production of “Scheherazade.” In the 1930’s, Elsa Schiaparelli commissioned perfume bottles by the Surrealists Salvador Dali and Eleanor Fini.

Then in the early 90’s, Elizabeth Arden introduced  Rituals of Color, a makeup collection designed by sculptor and jewelry designer Robert Lee Morris. And Ricci, creator of the classic L’Air du Temps perfume, freshened up its Old World image with Le Teint Ricci, a makeup and skin-care line, designed by the team of Elisabeth Garouste and Mattia Bonetti, who created the interiors of Christian Lacroix’s Paris couture house. This revived the firm’s history of working with artists and designers of the day, like Marc Lalique, Sol LeWitt and Andy Warhol.

And of course there is the work of Donna Karan’s late husband Stephan Weiss, with his work on her early black & gold perfume bottles based on the shape of a woman’s back. That simple package form got me thinking of the interesting parallels between the black & white work of Louise Nevelson and Stephan Weiss.

The contrast and consistency of styles in the image above, which contains Nevelson sculpture and Donna Karan fragrances, speaks for itself.


Berg, Rona. October 18th 1992. The Art of Beauty. The New York Times


About Richard Shear

designer, husband, teacher, blogger, father, athlete, author, historian Richard has over 25 years of brand identity and package design experience, with a wide range of clients such as Ahold, Coca-Cola, Hasbro, IBM, Johnson & Johnson, Pernod Ricard and Procter & Gamble. He began his career working with the legendary advertising art director, and AIGA Medalist, George Lois and the British design manager Clive Chajet. In his next design management position at Lippincott & Margulies, he worked with Walter Margulies learning the complex skills of global corporate identity. He then became Creative Director and Partner at Peterson & Blyth, one of the premier brand identity and package design firms of the time. He is a founding faculty member of the Masters in Branding Program at New York’s School of Visual Arts. He publishes the blog The Package Unseen, and has been a guest lecturer at colleges including FIT, Trinity College and Tyler School of Art. He is a graduate of the Tyler School of Art at Temple University. Richard is a Board member of the AIGA MetroNorth Chapter, past President of AIGA‘s Brand Design Association, President of the Package Design Council and a member of its Board of Directors. He is a member of USA Cycling and US Rowing, a nationally ranked masters bicycle racer, and a member of The Saugatuck Rowing Club, the 2010 Masters Club National Champion.
This entry was posted in Beauty & Personal Care, Design Criticism, Design Practice, Packages Today and tagged , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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