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Louisiana Museum in Denmark exhibits works by Louise Bourgeois
Louise Bourgeois, Cell (The Last Climb), 2008. National Gallery of Canada, Ottawa. Foto: Christopher Burke © The Easton Foundation / Licensed by Copydan.


HUMLEBÆK.- Louisiana’s exhibition Louise Bourgeois. Structures of Existence: The Cells, presents one of the most striking and influential visual artists of the twentieth century. Over a period of some 70 years Louise Bourgeois (1911, Paris - 2010, New York) created a comprehensive oeuvre spanning a wide range of materials and forms, emotions and moods. Her work is permeated by psychoanalytical and feminist themes where direct and strategic combinations of objects, materials and personal detritus have a clear echo in the contemporary art of the present day.

The exhibition concentrates on one of Bourgeois’ most original work types: the Cells. The name cell plays on all the meanings of the word – from prison cell to monk’s cell to the smallest elements of life in the body. Each work is an independent spatial installation filled with carefully arranged objects which, in interaction with cell walls of glass, wire mesh or old doors, create psychologically tense and sensual scenarios.

The membrane between life and art is thin for Bourgeois. Personal history, pain and passion fuel art in which she reworks family traumas and the relationship with her parents and between the genders with equal proportions of fragile hypersensitivity and raw ruthlessness.

Louise Bourgeois’ parents earned their living selling and restoring old tapestries, and as a child and a young woman she often helped her mother with the restoration work. The many needles, threads, textiles and tapestry fragments in the works point to this history. The Cells also retain traces of the frayed relationship between her parents, where her father’s overt affair with the family’s English governess, who lived in their home, created conflict and left its mark on the young girl and teenager Louise Bourgeois. A tangled skein of feelings of betrayal, care, love, rage, powerlessness, insecurity, anxiety and fear runs through the oeuvre.

However, the Cells do not close in around a specific private narrative. Open as the artist was when it came to the stories and emotions that generated the works, she was equally insistent that the ‘answer’ did not lie here – but always with ourselves. The Cells are situated in an original place somewhere between architecture,
environment and sculpture, and in a broad sense are about the connections among body, architecture, objects and memory.

Today it is not possible to enter all the Cells, although that was originally the artist’s intention. We are kept on the margins of the intimate spaces and can look in through openings and cracks like curious voyeurs. Many of the symbols used are standard and accessible, and everyone can immediately recognize the difference between closed and open spaces, hard and soft materials, smashed and intact windowpanes, tense and relaxed limbs. With everyday objects familiar to our bodies and our experience – beds, tables, chairs, perfume bottles, clothes – the Cells stand as alien yet recognizable scenarios that freely admit our own interpretations.

Louise Bourgeois lived to the age of 98, and in the last twenty years of her career she began in earnest to work in large formats with among other works the Cells after she obtained her first real studio in 1980 in a closed-down garment factory in Brooklyn, New York. The size of the place enabled her to create works on a much larger scale than before, when the artist had worked in her private home. Objects from the abandoned factory as well as doors, windows and other found elements from containers and clearance work around New York became important artistic material for the Cells. These things, with their clear traces of the passage of time and previous use, are combined with sculptural elements made by Bourgeois herself, and this combination of objets trouvés and her own sculptures is a consistent feature of the Cells.

The exhibition, which is being shown in the museum’s South Wing, is not built up strictly chronologically, but does start with the earliest Cells – as well as a precursor of the series – in the first room: The Cells I-VI were created for the exhibition Carnegie International in Pittsburgh in 1991 and were the first works the artist called ‘cells’. The walls are made of doors, and the artist herself described these works as representations of pain and pointed to the complex mechanisms involved in looking at and exposing something secret: “The Cells repre¬sent different types of pain: the physical, the emotional and psychological, and the mental and intellectual [...] Each Cell deals with the pleasure of the voyeur, the thrill of looking and being looked at.”

Cells of varying characters follow. Some have solid, others have transparent cell walls, and the sizes vary. Different spaces and spatial metaphors are brought into play, and objects and moods change – from the simple and poetic to the surreal and raw.

Bourgeois created a total of 62 Cells, including five works she herself regarded as direct predecessors. At Louisiana 25 of these are shown, from the earliest to the last. This is the first time so many Cells have been brought together in one exhibition. In addition we are showing a concentrated selection of smaller works, most of which are gathered in a small ‘Wunderkammer’. Here too are some of the artist’s so-called ‘
personage’ sculptures from the 1940s. Many of the same motifs and themes recur throughout the oeuvre, whether they are unfolded in graphic works, small sculptures or in the spatial assemblages of the Cells.

The exhibition has been organized by Haus der Kunst in Munich in collaboration with the Garage Museum of Contemporary Art in Moscow, the Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao and the Louisiana Museum of Modern Art in Humlebæk.





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