Tag Archives: National Gallery of Canada

Spider woman Louise Bourgeois….but so much more

Louise Bourgeois is probably best known for her spider sculptures.  One of the largest graces/guards/threatens (depending on your personal reaction to arachnids) the entrance to the National Gallery of Canada.

Maman, Louise Bourgeois, 1999 National Gallery of Canada image

Maman, Louise Bourgeois, 1999 National Gallery of Canada image

From October 2017 to July 2019 San Francisco Museum of Modern Art produced the very engaging exhibition, Spiders. Because of their size, volume and apparent solidity, the sculptures invite interaction with the viewer, albeit tentatively, in some cases.

Spiders, Louise Bourgeois, SFMoMA 2017, T. Vatrt image

Spiders, Louise Bourgeois, SFMoMA 2017, T. Vatrt image

Spiders, Louise Bourgeois, SFMoMA 2017, T. Vatrt image

Spiders, Louise Bourgeois, SFMoMA 2017, T. Vatrt image

The exhibition also included more intimate pieces.

Spider, Louise Bourgeoise, SFMoMA 2017, T. Vatrt image

Spider, Louise Bourgeoise, SFMoMA 2017, T. Vatrt image

This smaller Spider from 2003 is made of stainless steel and antique tapestry.  SFMoMA calls it an uncanny combination of materials that is both beautiful and disconcerting.  The exhibition’s curator Sarah Roberts wrote about the artwork, referencing Bourgeois’ personal history.  She says that Bourgeois laid bare a more fraught and complex psychological landscape–bright with devotion and protection but also darkened with feelings of guilt, rage and fear of abandonment or failure.  

In a short video from the Tate Bourgeois says I transform hate into love.  That’s what makes me tick.

Spider, Louise Bourgeois, 2003, T. Vatrt image

Louise Bourgeois was born in Paris on Christmas day in 1911.  (Yes!  She was creating the Spider sculptures as an octogenarian.)  She studied mathematics and art in Paris. (Interesting to note: she had a print shop next door to her parents’ tapestry gallery in a suburb of Paris.)  In 1938 she moved to the U.S.A. with her American husband.

After they settled in New York City, she created The Personages.  I find this series as compelling as the Spiders, but for different reasons.

Personages, Louise Bourgeois, artoronto.ca image

Personages, Louise Bourgeois, artoronto.ca image

Personages, Louise Bourgeois, whitney.org image

Personages, Louise Bourgeois, whitney.org image

Hauser & Wirth’s catalogue of her work for Art Basel 2013 is definitely worth a look.  It includes images of Bourgeois, the Personages, and background information.

The appeal of Personages is multi faceted.   They are made of malleable, natural materials:  wood and plaster.  (They were eventually cast in bronze.)  The scale is more human-sized, as opposed to the intimidating size of the Spiders.  She successfully uses the Modernist aesthetic of abstract symbols to evoke the presence of individuals – people to whom she felt connected, but from whom she was physically separated.

In an interview with the New York Times, Bourgeois said this:  Suddenly I had this huge sky space to myself, and I began doing these standing figures. A friend asked me what I was doing.  I told him ‘I feel so lonely that I am rebuilding these people around me.’

Perhaps the emotion contained in the works – the yearning, the loneliness, the love, the regret – is what I find most appealing.  It’s palpable.  At this time of year, in the midst of a pandemic, those emotions resonate deeply.

 

 

Arachnophobes, beware!

SF MoMA also has some of Louise Bourgeois’ spiders showing….and don’t they make a show?

Louise Bourgeois

Louise Bourgeois

Louise Bourgeois

My first encounter with a Louise Bourgeois spider was at the National Gallery of Canada.

Maman, Louise Bourgeois, 2003 National Gallery of Canada image

As you can see, (or may have experienced) Maman is an imposing sculpture.  I am not afraid of spiders, but the size of this artwork, in combination with the textures and finishes, add to the ominousness of the work.  I certainly wondered about Bourgeois’ relationship with her own mother, and hastily assumed that, perhaps, she had been a domineering and threatening figure in Bourgeois’ life.

SF MoMA offered a more nuanced interpretation of the work:

The artist saw spiders as both fierce and fragile, capable of being protectors as well as predators. For Bourgeois, the spider embodied an intricate and sometimes contradictory mix of psychological and biographical allusions.Partly a reference to her mother, partly to herself, spiders for her represented cleverness, industriousness, and protectiveness.

I think this is summed up in Spider, 2003.  This sculpture is encased in a cube, located in a room off of the main display area.

Spider, 2003, Louise Bourgeois

Spider, 2003, Louise Bourgeois

Spider is on a more manageable scale in terms of appearing less threatening, and yet still depicting strength.  The figure makes it somewhat human, and more accesible. The tapestry work contrasts with the steel of the legs, and softens the structure. (Her parents ran a tapestry restoration business in Paris in the first half of the 20th century.)  I found it beautiful, and unsettling…..a contradictory mix of psychological and biographical allusions.

Louise Bourgeois was a very prolific artist, who died at 98 years of age.  The cataloguing of her prints and books alone will total 5,000 entries. There is much moe to explore.

I wish…….

The Art Caravan did not and will not, unfortunately, see the retrospective show of Alex Janvier’s work at the National Gallery of Canada, which runs until April 17.

Alex Janvier, as you may know, was one of the artists of the Indian Group of Seven, or the Professional Native Indian Artists Association, formed in 1973..

The Red Drum by Alex Janvier

Russell Smith’s article in the Globe and Mail brought the show to my attention.  He provides a thoughtful analysis of the work.  Click here to read it.  After all, there’s still time to get to Ottawa.