The CAC Malaga is presenting Stitches in Time, a group of recent works by Louise Bourgeois, one of the most influential artists of recent times. The linking thread between these works is that of woven cloth, which is used in the 20 or so works that comprise the exhibition. These are accompanied by a selection of graphic works by the artist, including He disappeared into Complete Silence (1946), her most important group of prints and poems in which she recounts stories of loneliness and loss.
Stitches in Time features 20 of Louise Bourgeois’s most recent creations, most dating from the last three years. They include small characters, life-size sewn busts, totemic figures and display case-cells. In all of them, cloth acts as a material imbued with symbolism, suggestive of her traumatic family past.
Born in Paris in 1911 when Cubism was at its height, Louise Bourgeois’s father was an antique dealer and tapestry restorer while her mother worked in the textile industry in Aubusson (France). Family harmony was ruptured with the arrival of an English governess who later became her father’s lover.
This relationship, and in particular the consequences it had for her mother, permanently marked Louise Bourgeois’s artistic career. Seven in a Bed, 2001, for example, seems to distil the artist’s memory of a far distant weekend mornings when she and siblings would tumble into bed with their parents, but the Janus-like addition of extra heads warns us that things, specially people, are not always what they seem.
Trained as a painter, Bourgeois began to work in sculpture in New York in 1938 after her marriage to the art historian Robert Goldwater. In the late 1940s and early 1950s, she virtually abandoned painting and began to create a series of totemic figures in wood whose verticality evokes the human form. The artist has recently reinterpreted these early works, this time in cloth, represented in the exhibition by pieces such as Untitled 2001 and 2002.
Her first exhibition of sculpture took place in New York in 1949. Much later, at the age of seventy-one, Bourgeois was the first woman artist to be given a retrospective at the Museum of Modern Art in New York. By then she had started to make a theatrical spaces entitled Cells, representing, as she explained, different types of pain -- “the physical, the emotional and the psychological, and the mental and the intellectual”. Constructed from a variety of materials gleaned mostly from urban skips and demolitions sites, 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. Evoking both the punishment cell of the prison and the contemplative cell of the convent, these are spaces for solitary contemplation and self-reflection.
Fabric heads and graphic work
Some of the most arresting of Bourgeois’ recent works are a series of extraordinary upright and front-facing fabric heads, of which five 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.
Stitches in Time is completed by the series of prints What is the shape of the problem? (1999), Topiary, the Art of Improving Nature (1998), and He disappeared into Complete Silence (1947). The latter is perhaps her most important work in this field. In it, architectural structures, some with openings resembling balconies and windows, are juxtaposed with short texts that relate an inexplicable tale of privation and of lack of communication. Although the recall the skyscrapers of Manhattan, as some critics have suggested, these drawings remain as mysterious and unyielding as the texts that accompany them.
The oldest of the young artists
Louise Bourgeois is one of the first artists to affirm the importance of autobiography and identity as subjects of art. Throughout her career – one that defies a linear reading – she has shown herself to be a sculptor of startling originality, with a unique ability to work in different materials, from marble and bronze to latex and cloth.
Bourgeois has thus been a pioneer in the use of installation as a means of involving the public in the experience of art. She has been one of the most influential artists on contemporary art since the late 1970s, while her continuing and tireless activity inspires and motivates new generations of artists.
As Frances Morris notes in the catalogue of the exhibition: “at the age of ninety-three, Louise Bourgeois remains the oldest of young artists”.
Stitches in Time has been organised by the Irish Museum of Modern Art, Dublin, and has the sponsorship of GM Comunicación.