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"Louise Bourgeois: Stitches in Time"
2003-11-26 until 2004-02-22
Irish Museum of Modern Art
The first large-scale exhibition in Ireland by Louise Bourgeois, one of the greatest and most influential artists of our time, opens to the public at the Irish Museum of Modern Art on Wednesday 26 November 2003. Louise Bourgeois: Stitches in Time includes an extraordinary group of life-size sewn fabric busts, a series of cell-like vitrines, housing curious scenes of torture and ecstasy, and a small group of totemic figures, reinterpreting in fabric Bourgeois’s very first sculptures of the late 1940s and ‘50s.
Over 20 pieces, most created in the last three years, are accompanied by a selection of the artist’s graphic work including He disappeared into Complete Silence, 1946, her first major suite of etchings and poems in which she unfolds tales of loss and loneliness.
The exhibition is presented in association with THE IRISH TIMES with support from the French Embassy. The opening is sponsored by Beck’s Beer.
Born in 1911, Louise Bourgeois was one of the first artists to assert the importance of autobiography and identity as subjects for contemporary artists. Her family background and childhood in the suburbs of Paris and the traumatic relationship between her father, mother and governess have continued to underpin her work throughout her long career. Seven in a Bed, 2001, for example, seems to distill the artist’s memory of far distant weekend mornings when she and her siblings would tumble into bed with their parents, but the Janus-like addition of extra heads warns us that things, especially people, are not always what they seem.
In the 1980s Bourgeois began making a series of theatrical spaces entitled Cells, representing different types of pain – “the physical, the emotional and the psychological, and the mental and the intellectual”. The Cells are self-contained or partial enclosures which can be experienced either by entering the space or by encountering it close up through mesh walls, doors or windows. These works are the anthesis of Bourgeois’ famous monumental installations, such as the three vast towers, I do, I undo, I redo, commissioned for the opening of Tate Modern in 2000.
Some of the most arresting of Bourgeois’ recent works are a series of extraordinary upright and front-facing fabric heads, of which three can be seen in the exhibition. Sewn with a crudeness that belies their structural sophistication, they are nevertheless uncannily lifelike – open mouths appear moist from exhalation and their eyes apparently focus directly on the viewer, or seem to deliberately glance away. These are difficult works to confront; a difficulty compounded by the mute and resistant glass cases which encase them.
Born in Paris during the heyday of Cubism, Bourgeois moved to New York following her marriage to the American art historian Robert Goldwater. Her first exhibition of sculpture took place in 1949. Although her early work was respected by contemporaries, it was not until she was 71 that she received wider acclaim for her first major retrospective at New York’s Museum of Modern Art. The exhibition revealed a sculptor of startling originality and a unique ability to work with many different materials, from marble and bronze to latex and fabric. The event gave Bourgeois the confidence and opportunity to set out, in fascinating detail, not only the domestic dramas of her childhood but also the architecture, furnishings and artefacts which had surrounded her as the child of a mother whose family had been engaged in the Aubusson tapestry industry and a father who was a dealer in restored tapestry and antique furniture.
Now in her 92nd year Louise Bourgeois’s artistic practice has spanned the best part of the last century. She has always led the field of innovation, often working at more than one remove from the well-known avant-garde movements of her lifetime: Surrealism, Abstract Expressionism, Pop, Minimal and Conceptual art.
The exhibition is selected by Frances Morris, Senior Curator, Tate Modern, and is co-curated by her with Brenda McParland, Head of Exhibitions at IMMA.