Art Exhibition: Bliss with the spiderwoman

Louise Bourgeois is one of the most revered artists of our time, and her presence is something of an event for Copenhagen’s art scene. A Parisian powerhouse of ferocious artistic energy, Bourgeois (1911-2010) was relentless in her pursuit of a dialogue with herself and her personal history. She was also one of the most prolific artists of the 20th century, working up until weeks before her death, although she would destroy far more of her work than she allowed to be seen. That combination of strong creative and destructive impulses inform almost all of her drawings, paintings, sculptures and installations. Much of her work is autobiographical, concerned with memory and family, abstracted through a mottled glass of body-horror nightmare, and psycho-sexualised by way of Francis Bacon and David Cronenberg.

Bourgeois is arguably most famous for her giant maternal arachnids: all sinewy, twisted metal limbs around a cache of perfectly formed eggs. When I first saw one of them it was ‘Maman’, and I was accompanied, rather appropriately, by my mother. In the modestly sized room at the exhibition centre in Nottingham Castle, the piece filled the entire room and the impact was unforgettable. I’ve seen the same piece elsewhere and, while always impressive, it never had the same effect. This time I took my young daughter with me to Farschou and the effect of ‘Crouching Spider’ was as impactful on her as that first time I’d seen ‘Maman’. One could argue the measure of a great work is its ability to express so much conceptually, but also make a direct visceral impression on a child.

The spiders embody a paradox repeated throughout Bourgeois’ work: you have the tender nurturing role filled by the mother and the closeness with which she carries her brood, but also this imposing presence that wards off outsiders. The same thing is repeated in her iconic ‘Nature Study’, which features a headless hound with several globulous human breasts. Bourgeois described it as a combination of “fertility goddess and watchdog”.

A variation of that same paradox is there in the title of the exhibition, taken from one of the paintings here, ‘Alone & Together’ – a yearning for closeness, both sexual and familial, and yet within that, a right to loneliness and a need to defend space for solitude and reflection. This is particularly true of her Cells series of installations which, with glass, mirrors and metal, she explores memory and childhood. This part of the exhibition is intimate and perfectly lit, but every work is thoughtfully displayed and there is a chronological order by which you can view the works. Notably the exhibition has been co-curated by Bourgeois’ personal assistant of 30 years, Jerry Gorovoy, whose insightful arrangement has clearly allowed the works to have a dialogue with each other.

Louise Bourgeois: Alone and Together
Faurschou Foundation, Klubiensvej 11, Nordhavn, Cph Ø; ends Feb 14, open Tue-Fri 11:00-17:00; free adm;

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