8 Art Project
Eight Art Project
Louise Bourgeois at Guggenheim in Bilbao.

Louise Bourgeois. Structures of Existence: The Cells (until September 4, 2016) is the eagerly awaited retrospective that the Guggenheim in Bilbao is devoting to one of the artists who has had the most influence on the contemporary scene. The importance of Louise Bourgeois’s legacy is not measured solely on the basis of the growing fame of her fascinating installations—which have been such an inspiration for many of this century’s artists—but also in terms of her extraordinary capacity to draw on her personal experience to evoke universal themes. The curators Julienne Lorz and Petra Joos, with the guidance of the artist’s longtime assistant and director of the Easton Foundation, Jerry Gorovoy, have put together a wide-ranging exhibition that, in order to cover the whole of the French artist’s long career, presents drawings, pictures and sculptures, along with 28 of her celebrated Cells.

There is undoubtedly a precise guiding thread running through the works of Louise Bourgeois. It can be discerned in a reality described in part as a reflection of her own experience. The allusion to her childhood and the recollection of her past seem, in fact, to function as triggers of universal stories, with which all visitors will be able to identify.
The Cells of the title, a long series of installations constructed from a mixture of materials that she began in the eighties, are presented as accessible containers, studded with salvaged objects: mirrors, panes of glass, bottles of scent, skeins and balls of wool, scraps of cloth and relics of past life. Articulated Lair (1986-91), notwithstanding the title, is an open passage created by panels of steel and rubber, a refuge exposed to the outside gaze and thus incapable of performing in full its primary function of shelter. On the other hand the most recent of them, Cell (The Last Climb) (2008), is a copper cylinder that encloses, and protects, a spiral staircase ringed with floating spheres of glass and marble. Both are brilliant metaphors of Bourgeois’s poetics, constituting a reflection on architecture as a generator of spaces and emotions and presenting themselves at one and the same time as places of “imprisonment” and freedom.

These cramped spaces in which to seek refuge are also and above all an opportunity to conjure up, undisturbed, the memories that have had the deepest effect on the construction of our personalities. The artist goes along with this process of reparation in which she too seems to want to participate, scattering “objects of affection” around her installations that are able to spark off reflections of a psychoanalytical and feminist flavor; the troubled relationship with her family and her childhood, for example, are systematically evoked by the upholstery and balls of wool that take her back to the tapestry restoration workshop of her parents. In this sense The Cabinet of Wonders (1943-2010) constitutes a genuine collection of objects and sculptures with a strong symbolic and emotional value, a cross-section of the feelings and idiosyncrasies of a life; including the marble body of a woman, trapped in her role and in her house (Femme Maison, 1994).

Another chapter that does justice to the manual skill and talent of the French artist is that of the late etchings, of which I Give Everything Away (2010) undoubtedly represents a significant example, as well as being her last artistic bequest on the eve of her death. The copper matrices covered with wax, used on different kinds of paper and finished in watercolor, pencil and gouache, articulate succinct signs, completed by lapidary phrases like “I am packing my bags.” Even the Portrait Cells, when all is said and done, continue this process of self-representation, displaying amputated puppets as a metaphor for the human condition. Trapped in front of a mirror and crushed by personal memories and traumas, as in Cell XXVI (2003), these bodies made of rags are the best possible description of an entire vision. A world of recollections and perturbations that fueled one of the most brilliant artistic careers of the last century.
Elena Tettamanti


Bilbao // until September 4, 2016
Louise Bourgeois. Structures of Existence: The Cells.
Curated by Julienne Lorz and Petra Jobs with Jerry Gorovoy
Guggenheim Museum Bilbao
Avenida Abandoibarra, 2, 48009 Bilbao, Spain


Photo credits

1. Louise Bourgeois
Cell (The last climb), 2008
Steel, glass, rubber, thread and wood
384.8 x 400.1 x 299.7 cm
Collection National Gallery of Canada, Ottawa
Photo: Christopher Burke
© The Easton Foundation / VEGAP, Madrid

2. Louise Bourgeois
Spider, 1997
Steel, tapestry, wood, glass, fabric, rubber, silver, gold and bone
449.6 x 665.5 x 518.2 cm
Collection The Easton Foundation
Photo: Maximilian Geuter
© The Easton Foundation / VEGAP, Madrid

3. Louise Bourgeois
In and Out, 1995
Metal, glass, plaster, fabric and plastic
Cell: 205.7 x 210.8 x 210.8 cm
Plastic: 195 x 170 x 290 cm
Collection The Easton Foundation
Photo: Christopher Burke
© The Easton Foundation / VEGAP, Madrid

4. Louise Bourgeois
Cell XXVI, 2003 (detail)
Steel, fabric, aluminum, stainless and wood
252.7 x 434.3 x 304.8 cm
Collection Gemeentemuseum Den Haag, The
Photo: Christopher Burke
© The Easton Foundation / VEGAP, Madrid

July 2016
Elena Tettamanti


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