Louise Bourgeois at the Daros Collection March 13 - September 12 2004
Over the past sixty years, Louise Bourgeois has created an incomparable oeuvre. Born in Paris in 1911 and a resident of New York City since 1938, she always starts with her own life and what she herself has experienced: "My goal is to re-live a past emotion. . . to re-experience fear. . . Fear is a passive state, and the goal is to be active and take control."
The paintings and drawings of the early 1940s are redolent with the dreams and visions of the young artist. Red Night, 1946-1948, for example, shows a woman lying on a bed, her breasts and genitals each consisting of a child’s head in the shape of an ornamental, medieval capstone. The relationship between mother and child is invested with symbiotic, tender connotations. The notion of women whose bodies are inhabited and inhabitable is also conveyed in Standing Figure, 1945. The tie between mother and child, the link between house and body, becomes a ‘cellula’ that enables growth and reproduction. It signifies shelter or, at times, the separation of the Self from the other. In the second half of the 1940s, Bourgeois created her first sculptural "Personnages." These erect figures belong to a private ritual, through which she summons all the people she left behind in France and still misses. Carved, and often painted, wooden stelae like Brother & Sister or Depression Woman provide a means of parrying the anxiety of loss and disappearance, and The Blind Leading the Blind, 1947-1949, formulates her perception of a family life beset with difficulties, pain and injustice. Around 1950 she moves away from rigid, monolithic and isolated forms and begins constructing "Personnages" out of small pieces of wood. Deliberately, vertebra by vertebra, she explores a disparate past and reconstructs it. Suddenly, in these works, the distance from those left behind in France widens, and critical reflection on the past commences.
Ten years later the three-dimensional pieces become increasingly amorphous and self-referential. The new sculptures grow directly out of physical contact with moldable materials. A group of works, which Bourgeois calls "Lairs," consists of protected places, convoluted, spiral-shaped or hollow sculptures, redolent with sensual, physical allusion. She cultivates haptic experience to understand her life and her fears and to liberate herself. Sculptures like Labyrinthine Tower and Lair, both 1962, or Fée Couturière, 1963, allow her to perceive with eye and hand and, in turn, allow viewers a sensual, tactile interpretation. Increasingly she begins experimenting with diverse materials, traditional or synthetic, such as marble, bronze, fiberglass, and latex. In Avenza Revisited II, 1968-1969, the soft shape is set off against brittle materials, the tangible against the abstract, the playful against the concrete.
In 1991, Bourgeois ventured back into real space and created her first "Cell." Its simple furnishings consist of a bed, a table, and a chair. To these, the artist added an accumulation of everyday objects and medical instruments. On the linens - old French mailbags - she embroidered generalized or specific observations on art: "Pain is the ransom of formalism" or "Art is the guarantee of sanity." Cell I is essentially an architecture of memory, a figurative construct in which the artist equates taking care of her sick mother with the making of art as a healing process.
Louise Bourgeois began drawing as a child, long before she took up painting and sculpting. The drawings represent an independent body of work in her oeuvre. The Insomnia Drawings, a work consisting of 220 sheets and covering a period of sleepless nights between November 1994 and June 1995, testify to the inexhaustible richness of her vocabulary in both form and content, and provide insight into the incomparable freshness and antiformalistic mindset of the artist, who was by then over 80 years old. The act of drawing enabled her to exploit and transform the sleepless nights that were an expression of her existential anxiety: "The purpose of art est de vaincre la peur [to vanquish fear], nothing more, nothing less."
The Insomnia Drawings contain allusions to the spiders that subsequently populated her work, appearing in a variety of materials and sizes in both public and private spaces. The spider has a positive connotation for the artist and is the subject of an ode to her mother, who restored damaged tapestries.
Despite her inordinate anxiety, Bourgeois never acts like a victim; instead she takes an active stand and confronts the pain caused by her history. Her activity resembles that of a spider. She produces by secreting. Ceaselessly, she spins the space of her life and her work, incessantly inventing and redefining it. Her own extended body determines the space of her web. It incorporates the wiles of the hunter; it is host to elementary needs - for the spider, mystery and secretion are intimately allied.