Tuesday, November 28, 2017

Autumn in New York, Part 2: Louise Bourgeois at MoMA

Part 1: Fiction (With only Daylight Between Us)

New York City is the perfect place for fans of Louise Bourgeois. The current splendid exhibition at the Museum of Modern Art, Louise Bourgeois: An Unfolding Portrait, is just one of several significant shows over the past few years. The Guggenheim dedicated its entire Manhattan space to a chronological retrospective of her oeuvre in 2008. MoMA has often included her work in thematic exhibitions, and the Chelsea gallery, Cheim & Read, mounts museum-worthy exhibitions of her sculptures and prints. The international art fairs also show her work in impressive numbers. (Some links at the end of this post.)   

But back to Louise Bourgeois at MoMA. The exhibition brings together a selection of works from throughout her life, many from her own Easton Foundation. The exhibition is up through January 28, 2018. 

We begin on the second-floor atrium with a frightening sculpture of a spider enclosing a cage. Bourgeois conceived of the work as calming. The spider was a lifelong reference to her mother, a tapestry weaver and restorer. To the artist's mind, sitting in the cage was to be enfolded in an embrace of protection by her maman.

Spider Cell, 1997; steel, tapestry, wood, glass, fabric, rubber, silver, gold, and bone; MoMA image

Jerry Gorovoy, her longtime assistant and now head of her foundation, says, "Louise had this fear of getting rid of anything . . . When she was quite old she wondered what would happen to all the objects that had meaning to her, and I think she knew that if she incorporated them within the work, they would survive much longer than her own physical presence."

Now on to the third floor.

Bourgeois engaged spirals (or perhaps the other way around) for much of her career. I love this installation of a helical sculpture against a background of three spiral prints and drawings
Joanne Mattera photographs unless otherwise noted

Center: Spiral Woman, 1984, bronze; surrounded by a selection of thematically related work

The exhibition brings together prints from two periods of active printmaking: the 1940s, when, notes the text, "she "had not yet turned to sculpture," and the last decades of her career, the 1900s and 2000s, when printmaking was an integral part of her daily practice

Untitled (The Wedges), 1950, painted wood

The story goes that while Bourgeois was raising two children in the Chelsea brownstone she shared with her art historian husband, Robert Goldwater, he had the large third floor as his office, while she worked on the roof and stored her materials in a dumbwaiter. The year and materials would suggest that this is one of the pieces made under those circumstances

I forgot to snap the wall card for this work, so I don't have specific information for you, but looking at the work it's clear that Bourgeois has spun together images of spiders and maternal figures, with their big bellies and breasts, as the closer view and text below make clear

Sainte Sebastienne, 1992, drypoint, edition of 50

I don't know what was on her mind when she made this print, but it could not be more timely: a metaphorical Me Too. The view below (MoMA photo) gives you a sense of scale of this work. Also it's nice to see the exhibition here without the hordes

This is a section of the show that I particularly love. Toward the end of her long career Bourgeois turned to the clothes and fabrics she had used, and saved, over a lifetime

Bourgeois worked in a variety of materials throughout her long career, but her themes of human suffering are woven throughout, as the placement of these two heads--one printed on a household fabric, the other cobbled from stuffing and fabric scraps--make clear

Closer view below

Ode a l'oubli  (Ode to Forgetting), 2002, illustrated book with 32 fabric collages
It's an interesting title since the fabrics Bourgeois used conjured up so many memories for her

The text in the vitrine reads: "This is Bourgeois's first book of fabric collages. The pages are 
composed of linen hand towels saved from her trousseau. Many contain the embroidered monogram LBG (Louise Bourgeois Goldwater), as seen on the cover. Bourgeois later issued an editioned version of this book in twenty-five examples. In that version, the pages are tied together through buttonholes instead of bound so that all of the pages can be displayed simultaneously, as seen on the wall above."

I love this: A video in the vitrine shows Bourgeois turning the pages of this book

A panorama of the pages of this book, Ode a l'Oubli

Below: a few unbound pages. Note the buttonholes for binding

The Three Graces, 1998-2001; drypoint, engraving, and aquatint, with gouache, crayon, correction fluid, colored pencil,. and ink additions

Detail below 

The cast bronze Arch of Hysteria dominates the last room of the exhibition 

Jerry Gorovoy describes the work: "The hanging arch figure is actually a cast of my body. Louise had me lie down on a curved mound to get this shape, and then the body was in a plaster mold, which she then cut up to make this curve . . .
To Louise the state of hanging was this idea of fragility, because it meant that the body could turn, it could pivot, it could spin, so it wasn't a stable kind of thing. Louise wanted this figure to have a high polish so that the viewer’s face is caught inside the body of this contorted figure. So it brings the viewer into the picture."


A smaller exhibition of another of Bourgeois's books, Ode a la Bievre (Ode to the Bievre River, the stream near where she grew up, outside Paris) is at the Carolina Nitsch Project Space in Chelsea through November 30. Here the pages, individually framed, consist not only of stitched fabric but of digital prints of fabric--a tantalizing tromp l'oeil of what we know about her fabric books.

A wall of framed pages, with a few closer views below

This one looks to be stitched, but the fabric is a digital print of stitching
Detail below

In the vitrine  we see a bound edition of Ode a l'Oubli, opened to one of the pages you saw at MoMA earlier in this post 

Links to more reading

. Exhibition info at MoMA
. Installation views on the MoMA website
. Motherlode: My report on "Mind and Matter" at MoMA, 2010
. Spider Woman: my report of the 2008retrospective at the Guggenheim
. Many links to exhibitions and publications via Cheim & Read, which represents her work

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