A Long Way from Itsy Bitsy

April 14, 2008 at 3:01 pm | Posted in art, Uncategorized | 5 Comments
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Spider

Why the spider? Because my best friend was my mother, and she was as intelligent, patient, clean and useful, reasonable, indispensable as a spider. -Louise Bourgeois

Sure. And the spider/mother is definitely not supposed to be creepy, threatening, or controlling in any way, with its looming body and its spiky feet. Or perhaps Louise Bourgeois is not an artist to be taken entirely at her word. Consider, for example, that in a room filled with bulbous, organic, sensual shapes, Bourgeois is quoted thusly: “These are clouds, a formation of clouds. Me, I don’t see any sexual connotations in them.” Hmmm.

Such were my thoughts upon attending the Louise Bourgeois retrospective at Beaubourg. I can’t say I came away believing that she is one of the greatest artists of the 20th century, but there were certainly some strange, even disturbing pieces. As with many retrospectives, unless you are a hopeless devotee, I would advise you to hurry through the first few rooms of the exhibit — Bourgeois’s early works struck me as mostly uninspired and derivative, and infused with an irritating literalism (see the “house wife” series, where the artist depicts herself as trapped by cage-like houses).

Her works from the 80s onward, on the other hand, were a lot more compelling. I particularly liked her “Cells” — a series of installations that have a definite element of psychological spookiness. The two largest are made up of wooden doors, arranged in a circle to act as walls, and adorned with signs that read “Fermez la porte, SVP” and “Private”. In chinks and hinges, the viewer can peer inside these little rooms, decorated with strange red objects and representing the realm of the parent and realm of the child, and implying the dark secrets these two have from each other.

The rest of the exhibit was mostly devoted to Bourgeois’s grotesque fabric sculptures, like Seven in a Bed, in which seven pink bodies with ten heads among them seem to be maybe embracing, maybe cannibalizing each other. (See this and other works here.) I have to say, images like that can make you wonder if Bourgeois was quite as innocent as her words insist.

Louise Bourgeois
until June 2nd
Centre Pompidou

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