Louise Bourgeois: A Retrospective

By Angel Villanueva

Image: Brian Morris for The Curve.


Sensuality, pathos, self-reflection, and humor all find their way into Louise Bourgeois’ sculptural expressions. Born in Paris in 1911, and familiar from a young age with the arts and crafts of her region, Bourgeois’ work spans seven decades, with many of her most iconic and telling works present in the exhibition Louise Bourgeois at the Museum of Contemporary Art in Los Angeles.

The installation, rather than attempting a chronological narrative, clusters the works according to their material commonalities. Greeting visitors is a large-scale sculpture, a giant metal spider embracing one of Bourgeois’ self-enclosed constructions, which she calls cells. The work immediately establishes the artist’s strong affinity for material processes and the poetic redeployment of the particular significances of found objects. While walking around it, and within its legs, the sculpture unfolds as a revelation: the spider—a spinster, a crafty wonder of nature—acts as a protector around the cell, as if holding onto a precious and fragile egg sac. In the cell, wire, keys, thread, and other symbols, speak of treasures held in an intangible space, a deep niche of self-reflection in the artist’s mind, a place where memories and hopes can believe themselves safe from the prying eye of the outer world.

Other work clusters reveal the artist’s astonishing array of capacities: Bourgeois’ sculptural hand delivers soft marble forms resembling shapes in nature: the clouds, living creatures, parts of the human body. In their ambiguity, these entities tease the mind with hidden meanings and thoughts, offering no more than a sensual hint at the existence of such ideas. Her cells, constructed with linked doors, effectively transform points of entry into barriers. The resulting enclosed spaces contain yet another fragment of the artist’s negotiations with her memories and dreams. In a more representational series of material explorations, Bourgeois presents us with human figures engaged in various identifiable yet mysterious—even disturbing—activities: hysteria, illness, sex, perhaps death.

Overall, the exhibition invites the viewer’s mind to connect with the artist’s past and psyche, using shared experience as a translator for what is ultimately an alien perspective on life, and the world it unfolds in.

On view at MOCA Grand Avenue, October 26, 2008 through January 25, 2009.
250 South Grand Avenue, Los Angeles, CA 90012
For more information please visit www.moca.org .

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