I want to be like Louise Bourgeois when I grow up. At 96 years old and still working, bruised, battle-scarred Bourgeois is at once fragile and strong like the materials she uses to work: soft latex, fabrics, glass, wood, marble and metal. Provocative, emotionally intense, and very, very sexual, her sculptures are disquieting, definitely unpretty but unmistakably beautiful. I would meet her on Dean street in the building where my cousins Patrick and Marie-Ange lived in the late 1980’s and where she had her studio. I was intimidated by her and never said anything other than Bonjour and even that, with misgivings. How I wish I had been bolder then…
I first became fascinated by her when I saw her Maman sculpture. A huge spider with long, spindly legs, it both attracted and repelled me. As I am deathly afraid of spiders (tarentulas abounded in my childhood landscape and these hairy creatures can still provoke nightmares in broad daylight) I projected my own emotions on the work and the title. But where I saw menace, Bourgeois meant protection. Her mother was a spinner, a weaver, skilled in the craft of intricate tapestry repair and for her, the spider signifies a mother’s labor, generosity and foresight.
Things fall apart, life unravels…Maman repairs the fragile threads by weaving hers…
“My childhood never lost its magic, never lost its mystery, and never lost its drama.” Bourgeois’ childhood drama was the loss of her innocence when she discovered her father and her live-in governess were carrying on a passionate love affair which her mother pretended not to notice. There are none so blind…. “There is one story and one story only that will prove worth your telling” says the poet. The trauma inflicted by her father’s infidelity has fueled Bourgeois’ work so much that she seems a willing captive of this emotional damage, tirelessly using her relationship with her parents and the role sex played in her family life as the vocabulary in which to understand and re-create that story.
Clearly one of the most influential artists alive today (gender notwithstanding- “There are inequities in our society between men and women, but they have never kept me from saying or doing what I want” she’s said), her life might have followed the path her name pointed to, but decidedly unbourgeois Louise left France at 27 (she was born in 1911), settled in New York, had three children, and worked. Restless and inventive she created drawings, etchings, moldings, carvings in stone, castings in metal, wood constructions and walk-in assemblages. She has said that she works in response to emotions: fury at the past and fear of the present among them. Not so much breathing through the pain but working through the pain so you can breathe, is the lesson I learned from her life and work.
Michele Voltaire Marcelin
So run, don’t walk to the Guggenheim to see the retrospective of Louise Bourgeois as the exhibit (over a hundred pieces), lasts only until the end of September.
The blind leading the blind
“I work with the eternal, universal and ever-present emotions. Especially the emotions of violence, jealousy and fear. I believe in resurrection in the morning. There is a withdrawal, but it is temporary. You lose your self-esteem, but you pull yourself up again. This is about survival… about the will to survive.”
Curators and art critics: