Houston has the Rothko Chapel. Henri Matisse’s La Chapelle du Rosaire de Vence is in France. But did you know that New York has an artist chapel of its own, designed by none other than Louise Nevelson, hidden in plain sight in Midtown Manhattan?
Located at St. Peter’s Church, a Lutheran parish on Lexington Avenue and 54th Street, Nevelson Chapel is currently in the midst of a years-long renovation project. To cover the considerable costs of repairing and conserving the 1977 installation, the church is launching a major fundraising campaign, anchored by a gift from the artist’s gallery, Pace. (The gallery declined to disclose the exact amount.)
“Nevelson Chapel is really a story about the city of New York,” Jared R. Stahler, the church’s pastor, told Artnet News. “Nevelson collected all of her objects and broken pieces of wood from the streets of New York and put them together and made these grand forms and gave them new life. Using things that other people would just discard, she created real beauty.”
Since 2018, St. Peter’s has raised nearly $3 million toward a goal of $5.75 million to rejuvenate Nevelson’s delicate sculptural forms, which underwent a well-meaning but ultimately unsuccessful renovation in the 1980s. To further boost those efforts, Pace is hosting an online charity exhibition from December 9 to December 30, donating 60 percent of the proceeds of three 1970s Nevelson collage works to the church.
Restoring Nevelson Chapel to its former glory is personal for Stahler, who first visited the space as an undergraduate at Ohio’s Oberlin College in the early 2000s, at the recommendation of a professor.
“I fell in love with the place,” Stahler said. “I was going through a very difficult time and visiting the chapel gave me a really important perspective. It gave me a sense of hope.”
A few years later, as a graduate student at the Institute of Sacred Music and Yale Divinity School in Connecticut, Stahler mentioned to another professor his experience at St. Peter’s. The professor happened to be a parishioner at the church, and arranged for Stahler to start working there part time. He never left, and was recently promoted to senior pastor.
Also called the Chapel of the Good Shepherd, Nevelson Chapel dates to 1977, after the parish, founded in 1862, sold its Gothic style 1903 building to what is now Citibank. They erected a joint building complex from architects Hugh Stubbins and W. Easley Hamner, including a new freestanding church with interiors from husband-and-wife graphic designers Massimo and Lella Vignelli.
Commissioning Nevelson to create the peaceful, contemplative space built on a long tradition of embracing contemporary art at St. Peter’s—Elaine de Kooning used to serve as curator of the gallery spaces at the old church. The new space houses two art galleries, which host programming and exhibitions featuring artists including Leonardo Drew and Chellis Baird.
The chapel is small and intimate, seating 24 people, with nine white-on-white wall-mounted sculptural elements.
“It’s quintessential Nevelson: here are all these broken pieces, and she put them all together and created something new,” Stahler said. “It’s this wonderful gem of a space—she just envelopes you. You feel like you’re part of the sculpture.”