Bourgeois Looms Large at the Guggenheim

The spiral is a crucial metaphor for Bourgeois, who incorporates the symbol into much of her work as a representation of control and freedom, of space and movement.

poster for Louise Bourgeois Exhibition

Louise Bourgeois Exhibition

at Guggenheim Museum
in the Upper East Side area
This event has ended - (2008-06-27 - 2008-09-28)

In Reviews by Anna Rosencranz 2008-06-27 print

The architecture of the Guggenheim Museum has a reputation for overshadowing its exhibitions; the museum’s organic geometry is symphonic in organization, a breathtaking whole. But there could not have been a better location for the current Louise Bourgeois retrospective, the most extensive showcase of her work to date. The exhibit is an expanded version of what was previously on view at Tate Modern in London and Centre Pompidou in Paris, having landed in New York with 40 additional loans, most of them large-scale installation pieces. The exhibition’s scope is grand in both dimension and quantity.

Louise Bourgeois in 1990 with her marble sculpture 'Eye to Eye' (1970). 
Photo by Raimon Ramis. 
© Louise Bourgeois
Bourgeois is known primarily for her work as a sculptor (although this title does her little justice), and is still an active artist at age 96, working and hosting Sunday Salons for emerging artists in her Chelsea apartment. Born in Paris in 1911, she began her career in New York as a painter, but quickly abandoned two dimensions in favor of a multitude of medium (wax, plaster, plastic, rubber, latex, fabric, metal and wood, for a start), and the Guggenheim has selected critical pieces from all phases of her working life.

The exhibition is arranged in chronological order in the museum’s rotunda, a spiral walkway that reaches to the sixth floor, beginning with her earliest Femme Maison series and ending with the largest of her installations. The spiral is a crucial metaphor for Bourgeois, who incorporates the symbol into much of her work as a representation of control and freedom, of space and movement.

Here museum and art compliment each other harmoniously: as we ascend the spiral we are able to see the art on lower levels from above, as though peering through the clouds. The result is similar to viewing Bourgeois’ 1969 Cumul series, where white marble clusters of anthropomorphic shapes resemble erotic topographic maps.

From this birds-eye view, the configuration of 1949’s Blind Vigil (wooden totems like human bodies) looks less like an art piece and more like a gathering of friends at a party, and her iconic, menacing bronze spider looms in the lobby as though it will devour museum visitors. Most of what is on display is sculpture, from her mixed-media amoebas to the freestanding enclosures of the Cell series (1989-93) and the devastating The Deconstruction of the Father (1974), Bourgeois’ first-ever installation, made of plastic, latex, wood and fabric, bathed in red light and recessed, cave-like, into the museum wall. We are also treated to drawings and her early paintings, most of which exit independent of her sculptural work, rather than as sketches.

Louise Bourgeois, 
'Cumul I' (1968),
Marble, wood plinth,
20 1/16 x 50 x 48 1/16 inches.
Centre Pompidou, Paris,
© Louise BourgeoisInstallation view of 'Spider Couple', Untitled, and Untitled at Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York, 2008
© Solomon R. Guggenheim Foundation New York.
Photo by David Heald.


As we spiral toward the sixth floor, the pieces become larger and more sprawling. Her newest work includes the familiar imagery of the spider and sewing needles, of cloth, mirror and string. These repeated symbols, references to preserved memories of childhood and family, to memory itself, are intimate and eerie, maybe even sinister.

Much has been written about Bourgeois’ personal life and traumatic early childhood, and the effect they continue to have on her work. On view in the Guggenheim’s Sackler Center is “A Life in Pictures: Louise Bourgeois,” a small exhibition of photographs of the artist, passports, identification cards and excerpts from her diaries in both French and English. While perhaps not necessary, knowledge of her past illuminates what guides her to revisit the shapes and images used throughout her long career: the home, tapestry, body parts and their derivatives. This supplementary collection is the perfect pairing to her retrospective, an exhaustive overview of a remarkable career and vision.

The exhibition is on view at the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum from June 27-September 28, 2008.

ALSO OF INTEREST
Louise Bourgeois: The Spider, Mistress, and The Tangerine (2006), directed by Marion Cajori and Amei Wallach, showing at New York’s Film Forum June 25-July 8, 2008.

Louise Bourgeois: Portrait Trilogy (1995-2007), directed by Brigitte Cornand, showing at New York’s Anthology Film July 9-20, 2008.

Anna Rosencranz

Anna Rosencranz. Born in Rhode Island and raised throughout New England, Anna Rosencranz currently lives and works in New York City, where she writes and freelances in the arts. She is a graduate of the New School University and enjoys food, travel and the ocean. » See other writings

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