“I have been to hell and back,” it reads, “and let me tell you it was wonderful.”
Louise Bourgeois (embroidery, on fabric)
I will admit to being ignorant of Bourgeois’s work far longer than I should have. But the day I came across a beautifully rendered art book of her unique body of work, put out by the Hermitage, I was immediately in love. A major retrospective of the artist’s work just opened at one of my favorite venue’s, The Tate Modern, and I am now trying to figure out how to get over there to finally see her work in person. Bourgeois has an uncanny ability to create objects that externalize our deepest inner conflicts. Her work dealing with the female body is so relevant, with our modern obsessions over the remaking of ourselves externally based on our internal images. But seeing the internal, and all it’s horror play out in her work, makes us questions these drives. To me this is her genius.
I cannot imagine the amount of courage & determination she has, to have come up in the art world, when women artists were at best an occasional novelty in whatever movement was currently in vogue. What it took to have stayed committed to her work, when success did not come until her 70’s with a show at the MOMA in 1982. I wonder how many of today’s generation of artists have that much faith & determination. Perhaps that is why she was able to explore so many types of materials. She moves between using feminine & masculine materials, small & mammoth pieces. She has never allowed herself to be pigeonholed. Her work in bronze, and fabric are so different, yet have the same emotional power.
Her work is so fascinating because of her spirit, so much of her personality goes into it. Intelligence, moxie, commitment, willingness to take chances, emotional & political content, she has everything I respond to in an artist. And she obviously is unafraid to poke fun at herself and art, another admirable quality.
Louise Bourgeois is a truly extraordinary artist. From her emergence in the 1960s, no one has known quite what to say about her. She is as obsessed by the condition of women as any feminist; she is also fascinated by the paradoxes of gender. Her obsession with women begins as men’s obsession. She is the bad girl, the runaway girl, who has stolen a penis and run away with it under her arm, but it is not a glorious, towering phallus. It is a flaccid penis, incarnation of the grotesque, bulging, drooping and sagging, like a breast. If her work reminds us of anyone, besides the indigenous artists all over the world who rework her body-painting motifs and totemic objects, it is, oddly enough, the masculine magniloquence of Rodin. Bourgeois makes the anxiety that quivers in Rodin’s reassembled body casts appalling and explicit. The result is a kind of power that has never been seen in any woman’s work before.
From her spider series, look at the poor intimidated man below…
Don’t all women secretly feel this way about the bathroom mirror…