Tag Archives: San Francisco Museum of Modern Art

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.

Walker Evans: Rich in spirit

In my last post, I briefly mentioned Walker Evans.  I would guess that most of you are familiar with his work, especially his iconic photos taken in rural America during the depression years of the 1930’s.

Lucille Burroughts, Daughter of a Cotton Sharecropper, Hale County, Alabama, 1936      Walker Evans

Floyd and Lucille Burroughs, Hale County, Alabama 1936      Walker Evans

San Francisco’s Museum of Modern Art has a major retrospective of his work until February 4, 2018.  I found the show enlightening, for the extensive collection of images,  documents and ephemera highlighted various interests in Walker’s life.  It was organized around themes such as City Series, Window Gazing, The Charm of Main Street, Ordinary Folk, Three Alabama Families.

The entrance to the show was marked by a giant reproduction of a self-portrait from 1927.  It makes me smile;  it’s a joyous selfie.

Self-portrait, 1927 Walker Evans

I was particularly entranced by his photographs of tools in the Utilitarian Elegance section.  (Yes, tools.)  The images were beautiful.  They seemed to be simple (an everyday tool) and yet, complex in the detailed description of the utensil.  They conveyed a respect for the object, (the design and the utility), as well as the manufacturer/creator.

Tin Snips by J Wiss and Sons, Co., $1.85 Walker Evans

Bricklayer’s Pointing Trowel, by Marshaltown Trowel Co., $1.35 1955 Walker Evans

At the end of the exhibition,  some of Walker Evans’ comments on art exhibitions, published in the Boston Globe in 1971, were highlighted.

A good art exhibition is a lesson in seeing to those who need or want one, and a session of visual pleasure and excitement to those who don’t need anything – I mean the rich in spirit.  Grunts, sighs, shouts, laughter, and imprecations ought to be heard in a museum room.
I suggest that true religious feeling is sometimes to be had, even at church, and perhaps art can be seen and felt on a museum wall; with luck.

All the serious photojournalism we associate with Walker Evans is only a part of his creative life.  SF MoMA  in association with the Centre Pompidou,  have created a retrospective  which adds to our understanding of Walker Evans, particularly his passions, his muses and his personality.  It seems he was rich in spirit.


Stopped in my tracks….

So, there I was, enjoying the Museum of Modern Art in San Francisco, wandering from Walker Evans to Louise Bourgeoise  when I was stopped in my tracks by this work of art…..

Wedding Portrait, 2012, Njideka Akunyili Crosby

It was such a compelling piece that a complete stranger and I struck up a conversation.  We were both excited about the image, (acrylic paint, pastel,coloured pencil, marble dust, transfers and custom fabric on paper) and wanted to share our enthusiasm and admiration for Wedding Portrait.

If you’re interested, take a few moments to look at my photo of the artwork (which, of course, doesn’t do it justice.)  Notice the shapes, the layering, the negative spaces…..it’s a work beautifully composed.  It’s intriguing to have the face of the (presumed) groom absent, even though the other figures focus on him.

Click here for a link to Akunyili Crosby’s website.  There are many more images to savour there.

The Baltimore Museum of Art opened a solo show of her work today!   Front Room:  Njideka Akunyili Crosby / Counterparts closes March 18, 2018. That gives us plenty of time to plan a trip to Maryland.