Wednesday, June 15, 2011

"Louise Bourgeois"

Currently on exhibit through June 25, 2011, at the Cheim & Read Gallery in Chelsea is "The Fabric Works" by Louise Bourgeois. The show is exactly as the title suggests, but in stark contrast to some of Bourgeois more well-known works.

Most famous for her larger than life sculptures and provocative installations, these works, completed in the last decade of her life, from 2002 -2010, ( Bourgeois lived in Chelsea until her death last year at the age of 98, active in the art scene until the end, holding regular salons in her home, where artist, both the established and the unknown, could bring their work for her to discuss.) explore a more subdued side of her self-expression, while still exploring here life-long themes of domesticity, hierarchies, feminism, and matrimony.

In her last years, spending more time at home, she mined her closets for material, and used scraps of fabric, a section of a dress, or her husbands old handkerchief to produce these delicate yet bold creations.
Some familiar motifs re-occur, such as quilted pieces that resemble webs, a personal symbol for Bourgeois, whether expressed in welded steel or mattress ticking, or cloth remnants.

Small bits of vintage fabric are gathered into pouches and spider-egg-like cocoons, encouraging the viewer to consider not only the outer dimensions and shapes but the mystery within.

The exhibit is extensive, with room after room of her work. The catalog for the show, revelas just how prolific she was well into her 90's, with countless interpretations of a theme.

"Sewing is my attempt tp keep things together and make things whole", she is quoted as having said.

And while some pieces are completely abstract, others are referential, suggesting classic quilt-work or even landscapes.

As I viewed the exhibit with a long-time friend who works in fashion in Hong Kong, I studied each piece, noticing the style of stitch, the application of a button or the inclusion of a sewing needle, the hue of the thread, and how all the smaller details went together relating to the other pieces within the collection.  Together, my friend and I discussed the triumphs and failures of fashion, the value in documentation, and the history that is preserved in the art we produce, the story we tell in the method which we chose to weave the fabric of our life. 

Perhaps nothing announces more the person we claim to be than the clothing we choose to wear, the image we project through our second skin, which we don for protection from the elements and as a fashion statement. How appropriate is it then, the Bourgeois revisited these things in her last decade, reviewing the trends and traditions (she did grow up in Paris working in her family's tapestry restoration business, after all!) and translating them into her own personal finale. Something that once cloaked her body, in the end, became her body of work. Or as she herself stated, "Clothing exercise in memory."

The Cheim & Read Gallery is located at 547 West 25th Street, near 10th Ave, in NYC.

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