Friday, January 27, 2012

Designer of the Month: Louise Bourgeois

Week 4: fabric

Louise Bourgeois, Untitled, 2002. Tapestry fabric and stainless steel, 74 1/2 x 15 x 12 inches/189.2 x 38.1 x 30.5 centimeters. Courtesy of Cheim & Read, New York (BOUR-5637) CR# BO.7400.

During the last decade of her life, Louise Bourgeois made yet another shift in focus by working in fabric, creating both figurative and abstract sculptures and drawings. While the act of sewing always held a special significance for Bourgeois, both as a domestic iconography and because of her family's business repairing and selling tapestries, she began stitching together sculptures from fabric during the late 1990s/early 2000s.[1] Not only was this for practical reasons - large-scale carving and casting were too demanding for Bourgeois, who was in her late 80s when she began these works - but it was also a way to extend her practice of incorporating clothes into her installations.[2] According to the Guggenheim Museum's 2008 Louise Bourgeois exhibition:
Extending her practice of incorporating clothes into her installations, Bourgeois constructs many of these fabric sculptures from scraps of tapestries—the material that played a central role in her early experience—as well as garments and household linens that she has saved over her lifetime, infusing the objects with a powerful set of memories and associations. In contrast to the artist's more characteristic use of anthropomorphic fragments, in these late sculptures the body is fully realized.[3]
Louise Bourgeois, Untitled, 2002. Fabric steel and wood, 14 x 15 x 6 inches/35.6 x 38.1 x 15.2 centimeters. Courtesy of Cheim & Read, New York (BOUR-5386) CR# BO.6766.

In addition to these fabric sculptures, Bourgeois also created fabric drawings.[4] These works, created during the period of 2002 to 2008, are unique for Bourgeois in that unlike than the symbolic sculptures that she was also creating during this period, these drawings are completely abstract in nature, taking their symbolism from the material itself. As Hauser & Wirth explains in their 2010 exhibition of these works:
The fabric drawings are abstract and heterogeneous, deriving their formal logic from the juxtapositions of patterns printed on their materials and the artist’s long-standing motifs. Over a six-year period their designs evolved, exploring more intricate geometries and increasingly incorporating collaged elements. Stripy and chequered drawings that Bourgeois began making in 2002 weave thin strips of her garments together, bending the modernist grid. Later works adopt polygonal structures, stitching the fabrics so that the patterns form concentric circles and spirals similar to spider webs and the vibrant mirrorings of a kaleidoscope. Rather than being minimalist, these morphing geometries are supple and embracive, softly corporeal.[5] 
Louise Bourgeois, Untitled, 2007. Fabric, 69.9 x 55.9 cm / 27 1/2 x 22 in. Courtesy of Hauser & Wirth, London BOURG44847.

Bourgeois was a remarkably prolific artist who strove to challenge conventional ideas about art, expressed her ideas through a wide range of forms and materials. In addition to an array of exhibitions and retrospectives of her work, as well as a renewed interest in her art from the early 1990s through her death in 2010, Bourgeois has had a remarkable influence within the art world, inspiring artists as diverse as Kiki Smith, Cindy Sherman and David Hammons.[6] Over the course of her life, her achievements have ranged far and wide to include, among others, a fellowship from the National Endowment for the Arts (1973), membership in the American Academy of Arts and Sciences (1981), membership in the American Academy and Institute of Arts and Letters in New York (1983), an Officier de LOrdre des Arts Arts et des Lettres by the French Minister of Culture (1983), a Lifetime Achievement Award from the International Sculpture Center in Washington, D.C. (1991), a Grand Prix in sculpture from the French Ministry of Culture (1991), a Mayor Award for Art and Culture by the Mayor of New York (1993), a National Medal of Arts (1997), the Golden Lion for a living master of contemporary art at the 48th Venice Biennale (1999), an honorary membership at the Akademie der Bildenden K√ľnste in Vienna (2000), and a Medal of Honor from the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts in Philadelphia (2005).[7] As Christian Leigh explained so well of her enduring influence:
Bourgeois's art renders the self as the bearer of all things, great and small, good and evil. Subjecting herself to the gristliest of dissections, she insists that we the viewers look as intently as she does, not only at her, but at ourselves as well. Here is where her radicality lies. She illuminates the responsibilities we must insist on and the choices we must make by personalizing them first and only thereafter universalizing them. In so doing, Bourgeois gives license to an uncanny utopia whose foundation is laid within the self and whose force pours continually out.[8]


[1] Guggenheim Museum online, "Selected Works: Fabric Sculptures," from the exhibition Louise Bourgeois (June 27 - September 28, 2008), http://pastexhibitions.guggenheim.org/bourgeois/exhibition.html, (accessed January 12, 2012).


[2] Ibid.


[3] Ibid.


[4] Special thanks to Katherine Bowman for bringing Louise Bourgeois' fabric drawings to my attention. I'd already decided on Bourgeois as January's Designer of the Month, but these made me even more eager to write these posts.


[5] Hauser & Wirth online, "Introduction," from the exhibition Louise Bourgeois: The Fabric Works (October 15 -December 18, 2010), http://www.hauserwirth.com/exhibitions/743/louise-bourgeois-the-fabric-works/view/, (accessed January 26, 2012).


[6] Christian Leigh, "The Earrings of Madame B...:Louise Bourgeois and the Reciprocal Terrain for the Uncanny," from Louise Bourgeois: The Locus of Memory, Works 1982-1993, ed. Charlotta Kotik, Terrie Sultan and Christian Leigh, (New York: The Brooklyn Museum in Association with Harry N. Abrams, Inc., Publishers, 1994), 51-2.


[7] Guggenheim Museum online, "Biography," from the exhibition Louise Bourgeois (June 27 - September 28, 2008), http://pastexhibitions.guggenheim.org/bourgeois/exhibition.html, (accessed January 26, 2012).

[8] Christian Leigh, "The Earrings of Madame B...:Louise Bourgeois and the Reciprocal Terrain for the Uncanny," from Louise Bourgeois: The Locus of Memory, Works 1982-1993, ed. Charlotta Kotik, Terrie Sultan and Christian Leigh, (New York: The Brooklyn Museum in Association with Harry N. Abrams, Inc., Publishers, 1994), 69.

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