5 Questions: Nina Levy

Self_Same_©_Nina_Levy Self Same (side view) | Resin, auto paint, steel, monofilament | 2000

Nina Levy is a sculptor living and working in Williamsburg, Brooklyn. Her work has been featured in the New York Times, Sculpture, The Washington Post, ARTNews, Art In America, the National Portrait Gallery, and more.

Stroller | cast polyester resin, automotive paint, stainless steel, cast iron and rubber | 40.5″x34″x26″ | 2004

1. What’s been keeping you up at night?
Sadly, absolutely nothing:
I am not allowed to stay up at night for anything anymore. Not ever.

I was a champion of sleep deprivation for the first 49 years of my life. Making sculpture, and particularly fabricating big, unsaleable pieces of sculpture all by myself, reinforced this bad habit. If I didn’t finish building the mold of the giant tongue, baby head, or some other large unsaleable object in one work session, the material would shrink while I was sleeping and the parting lines might not match.

Then I had a baby. A baby who, perhaps unsurprisingly, was not a good sleeper either. Once we finally got to the point where he was willing to be unconscious for more than 15 minutes at a stretch, I went back to working at night, often finishing a project just in time to be mom for the daylight hours.

Large Head at National Portrait Gallery | Polyester resin, oil paint and steel | 5’x4’x5′ | 2006

This arrangement worked well for about 13 years. And then suddenly, it did not work anymore. My nighttime privileges have been permanently revoked.

Now I have to go to bed more or less on time no matter what sort of personal or global disaster might be unfolding.

I really miss the hours between 10pm and 1am in particular. I used to get so much done, and felt smug about how hard I was working.

Sadly, my smugness privileges have also been revoked.

Popular Monsters Installation at LIU Brooklyn
Toast Cat | 2015

2. What’s the coolest thing you have seen or heard lately?
“Functional Medicine” and other associated, but more fringe, stuff:

When I had an encounter early last year with the idea of being genuinely old and permanently sick, I started doing some research about “alternative” health care. This research encouraged me to disregard the advice of nationally recognized experts and to instead do things that really freaked out my family.

I certainly couldn’t conduct a double-blind, placebo controlled trial, but I can report that I don’t have that incurable problem that was supposed to get worse for the rest of my life anymore. This experience introduced me to the paradigm shift of seeing oneself as an active paticipant in one’s health and not just a helpless bystander at the site of the crash of between genetics and environment.

A nice mainstream example of this sort of thinking is the book “The End of Alzheimer’s” by Dr Dale Bredesen which discusses the clinically documented reversals of incurable things.

3. What’s the most exciting thing you are working on now?
A public art proposal that should be totally uncontroversial, while somehow not also being totally boring and worthless:

I was recently asked to put together a proposal for large outdoor sculpture for a museum.

In this case, they told me specifically to come up with something warm, welcoming and friendly…

Making a sculpture that’s out in public, representing an institution, without being safe and dull is always a challenge, but this one comes with an extra serving of “don’t give us something upsetting or controversial.”

I faced a similar request 15 years ago from the Aldrich museum. For various reasons, I made a sculpture of a giant baby. In theory, it was the most ingratiating sculpture possible. Perhaps it was also more than a bit tongue in cheek.

But the Big Baby proved so infuriating that there was a letter campaign in the local newspaper encouraging its destruction. After vandals actually set it on fire, public opinion did become slightly more sympathetic.

So, this proposal presents an interesting problem. But not one I have solved yet.

4. If you could add anyone alive or dead to your team who would it be?
My sarcastic sons:

At the moment, as I look down the barrel of living for the next few years with two crafty, too smart for their own good, adolescents, I fantasize about basic family cooperation.

While I tried to have realistic expectations about the low gratification nature of parenting, I failed to anticipate how much my kids would constantly thwart my attempts to help them with anything. This is of course not a unique family dynamic. But maybe we are near one end of the continuum.

It would be cool to feel like my sons were on the same team as their parents…just for the things that directly benefit them… like basic nutrition, health, weather appropriate clothing, getting to stay in school and the like.

Self Same (side view) | Resin, auto paint, steel, monofilament
| 2000
| Plaster, oil paint, wood, monofilament
| 54″ x 14″ x 24″ | 2000

5. When the movie of your life is made, what will it be called?
“Once She Thought Herself Too Good to Draw Batman”

I have spent many years flailing away, fruitlessly trying to promote the artwork I make in my studio. However, the unserious sketches of pop culture characters that I drew on my kids’ lunch napkins got far more attention. And this with absolutely no promotion on my part.

And these napkin drawings even eventually changed how I thought about my “serious” work.

To see more of Nina’s work, check out her “Daily Napkins” blog here, and her “serious sculpture” here.