Louise Bourgeois at the Guggenheim Museum

by |
08/19/2008 10:00 AM |

The L’s Benjamin Sutton went to see the Louise Bourgeois retrospective at the Guggenheim. He was like, Mark, I went to see the Louise Bourgeois retrospective at the Guggenheim. Would you like me to write something about the Louise Bourgeois retrospective at the Guggenheim, for the blog? I was like, yes, Ben, it’d be really cool if you did write something about the Louise Bourgeois retrospective at the Guggenheim, for the blog. So here, on the blog, are his thoughts on Louise Bourgeois retrospective at the Guggenheim.

Frank Lloyd Wright’s Guggenheim Museum building is bold and seductive, an art lover’s gravity-defying ivory slide toward the heavens. It’s also particularly apt to present a lifetime of work by an idiosyncratic artist whose career paralleled (but only rarely participated in) many of the 20th century’s modernisms. Louise Bourgeois, a 97 year-old New York émigré, was raised in a wealthy French household where her father’s affair with the live-in nanny was an open secret.

Accordingly, issues of parenthood, homes, bodies and space that first appeared in Bourgeois’ Femme Maison (Woman House) drawings from the 1940s and totemic Personages sculptures from a few years later are never finally treated as in certain artists’ therapeutic art practices. Instead, Bourgeois delved further into that rich childhood material, investing her art with new creative vigor in the 1960s after a hiatus of several years.

Sculpture and installation became her dominant mode thereafter, and
delightfully suggestive phallus forms her favorite subject to play with
(pun intended, and backed up with evidence). Distinctly feminist implications in her work also crystallized during this phase, like the breakout work The Destruction of the Father
(1974) that features a family of amorphous blobs devouring their
patriarch (with its macabre red lighting and fleshy forms, the scene is
not unlike the Leatherfaces’ disturbing dinner sequence near the end of
the original Texas Chainsaw Massacre).

However, Bourgeois relentlessly leaves the politicizing of her work to others, insisting on the personal sources and meanings of her iconography. This creates an impression of being immersed in the self-contained narrative of her life and sealed off from specifics of geo-political time and place (hence the appropriateness of the Guggenheim building’s gently-sloping white space).

Not surprisingly, one of Bourgeois’ most recent series engages the idea of the cell, spaces that protect and imprison whose artistry lies as much in the theatrics of their display as the details of the objects they contain and conceal. The concept of the woman house comes full circle in these works, while more recent installations made from clothing and salvaged fabric quietly betray Bourgeois’ worn physique. Nevertheless, her work’s broad resonance proves her lasting relevance, a delightful ability to draw us into her narrative while revealing things about our own.

At the Guggenheim (1071 Fifth Ave, at 89th St) through September 28.
Louise Bourgeois: The Spider, The Mistress and the Tangerine plays at Film Forum through today. $2 off Guggenheim admission with your Film Forum ticket stub.