I first heard about artist Zoulikha Bouabdellah last year, when her installation Silence was removed from the exhibition “Femina ou la Réappropriation des modèles” at the Pavillon Vendôme in Clichy, France, after receiving threats from a Muslim group about the possibility of a violent reaction to the piece. A similar incident surrounding California-based artist Mark Ryden and his painting Rosie’s Tea Party, currently on display at the Virginia Museum of Contemporary Art, has brought Bouabdellah’s work back to my attention, enabling me to rediscover her often ambiguous point of view. As it turns out, the timing could not have been more perfect: her work is currently featured in three different exhibitions across Spain and will be the object of a solo show in the autumn as well.
Her controversial piece Silence can be seen until June 12 at MUSAC (Museo de Arte Contemporáneo de Castilla y León) as part of the group show “Lucy’s Iris”. Bouabdellah usually adapts her works to the different contexts and spaces where they are exhibited, and in this case the installation has been titled Silence Noir. Composed of nine prayer rugs and the same number of pairs of golden shoes, perhaps the colour black has been chosen because of its historical association with Spain and particularly with Castile, the region where this exhibition is taking place. In the Spanish context, I cannot help but associate it with the traditional black outfit –composed of a lace veil (the mantilla) and a high comb (the peineta), as well as the mandatory high heels— still worn today by some women during Holy Week (the week leading to Easter), bullfights and sometimes even weddings (a great example can be found in Francisco de Goya’s 1797 portrait of the Duchess of Alba).
Black lace is used as a sort of camouflage in the series of drawings and prints Afrita Hanem, where the artist reproduces stills from the 1949 Egyptian film of the same name. Filled with double entendres, this film perpetuates the stereotype of the femme fatale, omnipresent both in Eastern and Western traditions.
Born in Moscow in 1977, Bouabdellah grew up in Algiers and moved to France in 1993. Her work explores cultural dualities and identity issues, and although it can be linked to feminist theories, one of its most characteristic qualities is its ambivalence. As the artist herself states, she seeks “to push forward boundaries, to create interactions between them”. She claims to be a “«second sex», a free-thinker sex” who oscillates between a dominant and a submissive position, constantly alternating between claiming and defying pre-established codes and rules.
This leads to many of her works not having a direct, clear message. Such is the case of her collage series Nues Endroit/Nues Envers, where the artist cuts two of the most iconic female nudes in art history into oriental, decorative shapes and combines the resulting pieces to create two different images. These kaleidoscopic visions both appeal to the viewer’s curiosity and frustrate any attempt to reconstruct the female bodies, consequently reinforcing their power of attraction. Bouabdellah seems to be visually exploring the Orientalist veil through which many male artists have looked at the female body in order to create the perfect object of desire, whose appeal lies in its inaccessibility.
“Objets de désir” is precisely the title of Bouabdellah’s current solo show at Sabrina Amrani Gallery (Madrid), which includes the aforementioned collage series as well as a video, a sound installation and several drawings and photographs that investigate the distance between the individual who desires and the object of desire itself.
The show focuses particularly on how women have been, and still are, objectified in visual culture. Perhaps one of the most fascinating works present in the exhibition is Venus au miroir, an enigmatic photographic series where the canon of occidental female beauty confronts its own image, leaving us wondering which goddess is the object and which the reflection.
If you happen to be in Spain, don’t miss the chance to see some of Bouabdellah’s works! Objects de désir runs at Sabrina Amrani Gallery (Madrid) until 3 June 2016. Lucy’s Iris. Contemporary African Women Artists runs at MUSAC (León) until 12 June 2016. She also participates in the group show Wastelands, curated by Piedad Solans at Es Baluard in Mallorca (until 19 June 2016), and in late October the Centro Atlántico de Arte Moderno – CAAM (Las Palmas, Canary Islands) will also host a retrospective exhibition by the artist.
Best known best for his black and white photos, Daido Moriyama is one of the leading photographers in Japan, his work focusing primarily on the country’s post-war experience of the breakdown of tradition and subsequent influx of modern values. The show, at the Cartier Foundation, exhibits a large portion of Moriyama’s work in colour, an element of his photography which has been largely unobserved throughout his career. The show ultimately strives to demonstrate what Moriyama describes as the “confusing interaction of people and things in the contemporary city” in both parts of the exhibition: Daido Tokyo – his colour work; and Dog and Mesh Tights – an audiovisual installation that presents his better known black and white works.
Daido Tokyo presents a body of work which demonstrates Moriyama’s apt eye for colour. His shots that are visually very “busy” (showing larger scale urban areas/ lots of colour/ multiple visual elements, objects and subjects) appear to work best; high focus resolutions with compelling colour contrasts such as a wide shot of a snowy Tokyo street with a large bright red vending machine at the centre of the image. The vending machine takes a strangely unnerving stance, its bright red colour and artificial look making it seem misplaced on the soft, snowy street. Both bleak and beautiful, the image captures a moment in modern Tokyo with a sad sense of nostalgia. What adds to this unnerving and slightly uncanny quality is that Moriyama doesn’t reveal any of his photographs’ contexts. For example, a shot of the bottom of a stairwell patterned with bright red leaves which clash with the purple wall, capture a dinginess which evokes the seediness that you might find in a brothel, a fact that is neither confirmed nor denied. In fact, there is no information next to each photograph: no title, subtitle, label or description; his work is inherently mysterious.
Unfortunately, the gallery does Moriyama a disservice by presenting his photographs in a jumbled formation that makes them difficult to focus on or follow; being arranged in 2s, 3s, 4s, 5s and 6s, edge to edge and without borders. Arguably this deliberately reinforces Moriyama’s idea of confusing interactions of the city – perhaps the presentation is a meta-visual tool that sees the works themselves inhabiting the confused landscapes of the artist’s photographs. Nonetheless, the photos are hard to look at, sometimes becoming distorted by their presentation.
Photos that stand out from the jumble are portraits that provide an interesting insight into city life. The most dramatic of these features a blurred street at night-time as a backdrop with a woman’s face in the forefront, her eyes dark with kohl which is slightly running round her eyes. It’s hard to say whether her expression is unnerving or endearing but it’s thought-provoking and beautifully composed nonetheless, conjuring images of loneliness and vulnerability which are up against the great magnitude and darkness of the city. Another shot which is particularly absorbing shows a group of women moving through a market. Those in the background are out of focus, bringing the woman at the front to our attention who has a candidness in her expression that makes you wonder if she knew she was being photographed. This, along with the blurred movement in the photograph creates an image whose subjects are fleeting and mobile, evoking the fast-pace of an urban environment.
Dog and Mesh Tights takes a different approach to its colour counterparts: an audiovisual piece installed in a dark room comprised of four 10 ft screens providing a slideshow of Moriyama’s vast body of black and white work. The audio adds an interesting extra element; often involving people talking in groups (in Japanese) and moving around busy public spaces as well as the clattering sounds of restaurants and communal eating. Moriyama knows that most of his French audience won’t understand the Japanese audio; this assumed unfamiliarity is another meta-artistic demonstration of Tokyo’s “confusing” urbanity.
In Dog and Mesh Tights, the photos on display suggest that the “confusion” Moriyama speaks of involves Tokyo being in a limbo state, uncomfortably wedged somewhere between the old and the new. Symbols of modern pop culture such as glittered lips on an airbrushed face or the iconically branded can of Coca Cola stand juxtaposed with banal images of human habit – a sellotape dispenser, toilet roll and paperclips. The clash between habit/ tradition and new/ contemporary are central ideas in both parts of the show and are, unsurprisingly, left unresolved as if to say that Japan is still attempting to forge its post-war identity. Whilst Moriyama explores these ideas with thoughtful detail, it is a shame that the gallery itself couldn’t have dealt with the presentation a little more thoughtfully. This ultimately left me with a sense of incompletion – a feeling that the show lacked the coherence that Moriyama’s work really deserves.
Daido Moriyama, Daido Tokyo is on view at The Cartier Foundation, Paris through June 5, 2016
140 photographs from 10 different series produced by Fernell Franco between 1970 and 1996 are currently shown at the Fondation Cartier pour l’art contemporain. CALI CLAIR–OBSCUR is a first-time-in-Europe retrospective of this curiously under-recognised Latin American photographer.
The exhibition has not failed to demonstrate Fernell Franco’s photography techniques and unique senses of vision, evidently accumulated from his rich experiences from being a fotocinero (a photographer who takes and sells portraits of people in the streets) to a photojournalist for the newspapers and a fashion photographer. Working as a photojournalist of Cali, Colombia, his sharp and close observation of the city stems from his unbreakable bonding with his native home. As highlighted by the title of the show –Cali, Clair-Obscur, Fernell Franco’s powerful, unobtrusive and yet radical works center on the light and darkness of the city’s urban life.
Since 1954, Fernell Franco had been discovering cinema and eventually became a film aficionado. He would watch several movies a day in various cinemas throughout the city. As a result, cinematic influence of Mexican cinema, film noir and Italian neorealism is significantly visible in the Billare series, presenting interior images of snooker clubs in finely designed composition, and the Interiores series, seeking to record the fast-vanishing urban areas from early 1970s where abandoned homes became slums. What I favor the most in these series is how the cinematic effects were accentuated by the artist’s retouching of colours and the emphasis on the contrast between red and green on B&W photos. Serving as a testimony of the cityscape for later generations, the Interiores series showcases the importance of Fernell Franco’s work within a broader cultural context in Cali at the beginning of the 1970s.
The Prostitutas series depicts young girls and women working in one of the last brothels in Buenaventura, Colombia. It is neither glamour nor seduction. Instead, we see realism and darkness. Uneasiness arose when I saw some of the girls in portraits look like a 12-year-old, too young to appear in such settings. The artist used experimental techniques such as toning and solarisation to enhance the contrasts, underlining the dark shadows as ‘a metaphor for forgetting and confinement’. Ironically, underscoring the contrast is the light-hearted salsa music that accompanies the exhibition. Fernell Franco wanted to recreate the joyful and enthusiastic ambiance typical of restaurants, bars, night clubs and brothels of Cali when he exhibited this Prostitutas series at Ciudad Solar, Cali back in 1972.
I like the creepy mysterious, imaginative and artistic series entitled Amarrados (translated as tied) photos taken by Fernell Franco of wrapped and tied merchandise objects left unattended overnight when he was wandering around the outdoor markets of Colombia and Latin America. According to the text description in the exhibition, these objects in peculiar forms and sizes were seen as dead human bodies.
Fernell Franco’s works, representative of Latin American photography, not only are part of the vibrant art scene in Cali since early 1970s, but also have witnessed the transformation of a Colombian city throughout the decades meandering through light and darkness.
FERNELL FRANCO | CALI CLAIR–OBSCUR
February 6 – June 5, 2016, Fondation Cartier pour l’art contemporain, Paris
May 23, 2016
Distinguished for his portrait paintings, South African born Ryan Hewett is a star on the rise. After his sold-out show at Unit London last year (Read our interview with Unit London co-founders Jonny Burt and Joe Kennedy), Ryan is preparing for his first solo show in the UK coming up in October this year. We caught up on a typical rainy day in London (not as sunny and bright as days in South Africa, noted by the artist) when Hewett shared his views on being an artist, creative transformation, life outside of a canvas and much more.
Do you remember when you realized you wanted to be an artist ?
Not really. It’s always been with me. I’ve been drawing since I can remember. There was never a point when the lights came on and BOOM I’m going to be an artist ! I was doing a number of jobs, but I kept drawing no matter what. I used to do pencil drawings with a very realistic approach to them. I was never a painter. But then I taught myself to paint. It was always something I enjoyed, it was my passion, and I wanted to take it further and see where it can lead me.
When was the first time you painted ?
I was about 20. It took me a while, but by 22 I sold my first work. And then I became obsessed with painting for the past 15 years.
Would you try any other medium though ?
I mostly have oil paintings, I also use spray paint and I want to start doing sculptures. I’d like to as I feel my paintings are quite sculptural. I’ve never done it before, it’s like I’m painting rocks and putting them together. I’m going to start playing with clay in a month or two and see where it goes.
I can see some of your works are so three-dimensional, you can actually see the thick layer of paint that you applied on the surface…
At the beginning, I tried to approach painting as I did with pencil work. It was very delicate and thin. I needed it to be neat and tidy, I used to put paint lids back on after I finished painting… now it’s a complete chaos (laughs). I use rollers, I throw paint on the canvas, and lids are never on now… I became more confident when approaching a painting and just letting it go. The textures are a lot thicker and juicier. But then again my new works with flat backgrounds are more textured, more thought-out. My earlier works are rough, low-detailed, these ones are more one-stroke, you lay it down and you leave it. Very clean.
Are you inspired by any artists ?
I never studied art history, so my inspiration came from books. Looking through and learning about artists as I got older made my taste change over time. There’s this artist Adrian Ghenie that influenced me in a figurative landscape sense of an artwork… But there’s so much art out there, you can get lost… I think, the art of Francis Bacon and Egon Schiele speak to me the most. Art has to be moving. It’s not always a pretty picture or a pretty face, it’s gotta hold you.
You first show was four years ago at Barnard Gallery in SA. Before that you’ve never thought of being exhibited ?
Most of my 20s and 30s I have been going through a rough time and painting was mostly a way to escape from all the troubles of the everyday life. I can’t even say who I was; it was a very unstable chapter of my life. Art was my passion and the means to get away from that dark place I was in most of the time.
Last year you had a show at Unit London called Untitled where you depicted portraits of famous historical figures. What was the idea behind it ?
The idea came around to put figures that in their own way changed the world together in one place. Winston Churchill, Oussama Ben Laden… Jesus… That body of work was meant for those people to be together in one room. In a certain way, they belonged together. Putin and Obama, which is still relevant today. Even after the show I thought I did a series of iconic people and got caught in it for a while.
What about your second UK solo show coming up in October, will we see portraits again ?
Not only. There will be landscapes … It’s so new to me. There are hints of landscape here and there in my previous works, where figures seem to be crashed into the flower field, for example, or a skyline. There will be movement away from portraits; in fact, I want to tell my personal story. It will be a great challenge, as I’ve been doing just portraits for the past 15 years.
Do you have any work ready for the show already ?
I’ve just started the first one (laughing). It’ll be based on landscapes I saw growing up in Johannesburg… quite colorful… It’s hard to explain, but I remember reading a book when I was young that was a big inspiration to me so it’s a flashback to that time in a way. Revisiting my styles, paintings that I did ages ago. Not to do with the painting but with the concept behind it, my darker past, memories… Going back to them and trying to put them on canvas is quite scary, as I haven’t done it. I know it’ll be a great challenge, but I feel like I have to do it. I want to ultimately show the journey that I’ve had.
What’s your favorite part of the artistic process ?
It takes time to have that breakthrough. But there are these moments when everything changes… A new idea or a mistake. Painting is a very technical process and I am kind of an obsessive painter. I’m always in the studio for long hours, painting and painting. But then you always stumble on something new. A painting created in a few hours or a few sessions moves you. Sometimes I remember a facial structure and I keep the reference in my mind, and then the face just comes together on a canvas in a matter of a few days. It’s done.
I used to just attack the canvas and lately I started to reflect on how and why I lay down that brushstroke. I get in a rhythm, I’ve a roller, paintbrushes in my hands, it’s quite chaotic, but I get focused and zoned into what I am doing. I don’t even put music on, just because I like to be in my head when I’m doing it. But I also know what to be in and out of rhythm, I am a very up and down artist.
Do you work on multiple canvases at the same time ?
I never used to. I used to work on just one piece at a time. I recently started to because I don’t want to fall into a routine or a pattern, when you go from A to Z. It becomes predictable. Now I jump from one canvas to the next. And sometimes when you throw paint on a canvas, let it be there for a while, come back to it a few days later, and you see something new. You can’t get bored of it. You can’t get bored of the process of mixing it up… It depends though, sometimes I can finish a piece in a few hours. I don’t like the statement “it has to be this way”, I used to and I broke this pattern. I just know that there are moments when you’re in tune with the rhythm, you just see it. Everything feels right. It’s not always like that, it’s not easy. I am not trying to imagine a picture before I get to start the painting. Though with my new body of work that’ll be focusing on my own journey, I do have a picture, a memory in my head and the challenge is to ultimately communicate the felling I had through a painting. And I get so much satisfaction just letting it go on a canvas and I not controlling the process. I don’t want to know what I’m getting. That’s the art of making.
Do you have any advice to young artists?
As a painter, spend more time on a canvas. It’s not just books and books, you’ve to get on the canvas. Don’t be afraid of it. You’ve to be able to throw a canvas on the floor and walk over it at the end of the day. You’ve to be ready to take those risks. Things happen accidentally. Mistakes happen, great mistakes. It’s hours and hours on the canvas; you can’t get away from it. Go explore.
Ryan Hewett Solo Show is coming on September 29th, 2016 at Unit London.
May 20, 2016
Philip Guston’s oeuvre cannot be designated to only one artistic movement. He had begun his career as a realist expressionist; however, after a move to New York in the forties, quickly delved into abstraction and gained fame as a part of the New York School. Guston’s views on Abstract Expressionism began to diverge from those of his peers. As Ab-Ex continued to sever the ties between abstraction and realism on a “march to flatness,” Guston was becoming disenchanted with painting what he believed could only be realized through painting itself—what only a painting could express. Grappling with concepts of abstraction and the very notions of painting itself, Guston turned back on his separation with realism to rediscover imagination within painting. While it may seem that the artist’s transition to his figurative, Neo-Expressionist works was abrupt, the pieces made during the preceding decade foreshadow his return to figure and object. During Guston’s metamorphosis, his works searched for form and solidity within an imagined space. Some of the pivotal works from this period are currently on display at Hauser & Wirth in an exhibition entitled “Philip Guston: Painter 1957—1967,” which directly explores the slow evolution that led to the artist’s return to figuration and his re-discovery of painting as an illusionistic, infinitely imaginative space.
The exhibition is a coming together of 36 paintings and 53 drawings, most on loan from private collections and major institutions, organized by Paul Schimmel—ex-MOCA Director as well as Partner and Vice President of Hauser & Wirth. Schimmel led a walk-through of the exhibition, discussing this transitory period of 1957-67 as the physical representation of Guston’s concern with the loss of object in abstraction and a display of the artist’s ability to, as Schimmel states, “push back on his own history.”
In the first gallery, colorful shapes floating on white landscapes greet viewers. The works from 1957 are energetic and colorful. In some, the colors clustered in the center of the work seem to wish to break out of their tight, constricted form. Guston’s Fable II from 1957 is an example of this abstracted, elegantly exuberant conglomeration of colors surrounded by soft, warm beige brushstrokes. By 1958, Guston’s paintings become murkier, his colors darkening—the reds deepen, the white tones become gray, such as in Last Piece and Untitled. However, splotches of color are still commanding forces within the picture. Vessel from 1960 consists of a dark rectangular form hovering close to the viewer, dominating the pictorial space—swatches of yellow, green and red peek over the black ridge. Blue and gray brushstrokes partially erase an underpainting, which consists of warmer orange tones.
By 1961, Guston’s longing for images takes over his paintings. Figures and objects arise in dark masses against gray backgrounds that stop short of the edge of the canvas. The masses loom toward the viewer, ambiguous and ghostly. The phantoms haunt many of Guston’s works from this period, shadows of the figuration the artist will soon return to. The bare space surrounding his pictures highlight the edge of the canvas, heightening the awareness of the relationship between the paint and the end of the physical work through a spatial exploration of landscape and background.
Guston’s Painter III from 1963 exemplifies the new changes in the artist’s work. The brushstrokes layer in loose knits, almost grid-like. In Painter III, a form emerges from a large swatch of grays and blues. Underneath, background layers of muted orange and purple peer out from behind the gray paint. A black figure compositionally portrayed in portrait style appears to raise a hand, the suggestion of a paintbrush in its grip implies an artist’s self-portrait. Although ambiguous and still embedded within abstraction, the paintings introduce ideas of landscapes and suggestions of portraiture, even the titles of his pieces start to relate more to physical nouns rather than concepts. Within these works, the viewer can observe Guston testing the waters for a move back to object and figure.
In 1965, Guston experimented with his last throes of color in works like Looking and Inhabiter—hints of dusty, salmon pink layers appear luminous underneath a smoky screen of paint. At the end of this pivotal decade, the everyday objects and enigmatic figures are their most mysterious. Shapes materialize from the space; these cryptic subjects loom forward in their settings, comprised of grays and blacks, the brushstrokes smooth and gentle, forming soft, slack cross-hatched patterns. There is a large sense of erasure in the works, traces of painting barely remain behind a smog-like haze of monochromatic color. The paintings are elusive, abstract enough to remain ambiguous but familiar enough where the implication of reality cannot be ignored.
The end of Hauser & Wirth’s exhibition features a wall of Guston’s drawings from 1967. Although the drawings mark a temporary end of painting for the artist, they actually symbolize the birth of Guston’s Neo-Expressionist style. The pure line drawings are skeletons of the cartoon-like realism soon to come. They also speak to Guston’s rejection of the art world’s expectations regarding his artwork.
The paintings exhibited at Hauser & Wirth display the artist’s search for spatiality and object, signaling his return to figuration. Each work proves to be a stepping stone that forms a cohesive understanding of the artist’s subtle, smooth transition to figure and form and away from the constraints of his previous works. Schimmel, during his tour, discussed Guston’s idea of freedom, stating that the artist believed that “only when you are at the blank white canvas, you are free.” Beyond the works in this decade attempting to reconcile gesture and color field painting, landscape and portraiture with abstraction, the paintings directly deal with the freedom of the artist—the ability to reject or embrace the past, or to create whatever one pleases. The artworks at Hauser & Wirth are inherent to Guston’s realization of freedom, and in Guston’s words himself, “that’s the only possession an artist has—freedom to do whatever you can imagine.”
“Philip Guston: Painter 1957—1967” is on view at Hauser & Wirth Gallery, New York, through July 29, 2016.
Usually exhibited in a corner, near a large painting by Francis Bacon, Andrew Wyeth’s My Young Friend (1970) is often overlooked by visitors at the Thyssen-Bornemisza Museum in Madrid. Looking a bit too sober among its neighbours, and being the only work by Wyeth in the collection, this austere portrait has always had a certain alien quality. This is perhaps due to the public’s lack of acquaintance with the work of the legendary American artist, a situation that the exhibition Wyeth: Andrew and Jamie in the Studio, organised by the Thyssen-Bornemisza in collaboration with the Denver Art Museum, seeks to end.
More than sixty works by Andrew Wyeth (1917-2009) and his son Jamie (1946), some never previously exhibited in public, shape this first retrospective of the Wyeths in Europe. It is, therefore, a unique opportunity to discover the multiple points of connection between the lives and work of two of the main representatives of twentieth-century American Realism.
The exhibition was conceived by curator Timothy J. Standring as an intimate artistic conversation around shared subjects and interests, such as friends, neighbours, animals, familiar settings in Pennsylvania and Maine, and the nude figure.
The strength of the display lies precisely in this decision of grouping the works thematically, juxtaposing both artists’ perspectives and thus allowing visitors to question the commonplace notion of Realism being an objective and detached image of reality. The continuous dialogue between father and son highlights not only their joint sensibilities, but also the originality of their individual visions. While Andrew’s images show his interest in everyday themes, Jamie’s gaze seeks the bizarre and the unexpected. They are both deeply engaged with their immediate surroundings, but retain their own personal points of view and approach the blank surface in radically different ways.
This becomes particularly evident when comparing Andrew’s solid, more naturalistic depictions of his neighbours-turned-models with Jamie’s expressive use of white to create his ghost-like portraits of celebrities such as Rudolf Nureyev and Andy Warhol. The latter is perhaps one of the most beautiful and poignant depictions of the late artist, a haunting image that stays with you long after you leave the museum.
This journey through the Wyeths’ lives, interests and places that inspired them is complemented by The Secret Sits (Wyeth Wonderland), a display of photographs by Joséphine Douet, who followed Andrew Wyeth’s steps in his native city of Chadds Ford (Pennsylvania, USA) and captured her own vision of the artist’s reality.
This comprehensive retrospective, which risks being overlooked like the portrait of Andrew Wyeth’s young friend, is not only a rare chance to see the works of these two artists in Europe, but also an unmissable event for those who regularly visit the Thyssen. By contextualising this delicate female portrait, the Spanish museum has successfully illuminated an obscure corner of its collection, enabling future visitors to evoke the whole universe that the Wyeths wanted to express through their art when they see the painting.
Hauser & Wirth is on the path to redefining the Arts District in Los Angeles. The global gallery enterprise has teamed up with former Chief Curator of the Museum of Contemporary Art in Los Angeles, Paul Schimmel, to create a gallery that takes up a whole city block on East 3rd. Street. With free admission, a restaurant, and public walkways that run right through the middle, this gallery is different in the best way.
The Mid-Century flour mill turned art gallery is actually more like a museum. It is only slightly smaller than its neighbor, The Broad, which opened in downtown L.A. last year. So how did they choose to fill 112,000 square feet of gallery space for its first show? With over 100 pieces from 34 female artists, that’s how.
“Revolution in the Making: Abstract Sculpture by Women, 1947-2016” takes the past 70 years of women artists and revisits their relevance during a dominantly masculine period. The inaugural exhibition, curated by Paul Schimmel and Jenni Sorkin, explores the influence these women had on abstract sculpture through a diverse range of form, material and method.
The first part of the exhibition focuses on the women of the immediate post-war era (1940-1960). Beautiful white columns line the naturally lit room. The space is simple, elegant, and urbanized. The tall ceilings allow for Ruth Asawa’s twenty-one foot long looped wire sculpture (one of several on display) to hang and unfold gracefully at one end of the gallery. Lee Bontecou’s series of steel and canvas bas-relief sculptures are fixed on the back wall, while Louise Bourgeois sleek “Personages” sculptures stand like viewers in the center of the room. Further down, placed below a balcony, are five of Claire Falkenstein’s mixed material sculptures entitled, “Sun” and “Iron Sun.” This first room is so rich in the themes of this exhibition. These specific artists have, each in their own way, used new materials and created a subject matter that is begotten by nature and the feminine experience.
Ruth Asawa’s Untitled series of wire sculptures hang vertically from the ceiling, imitating a drop of water as it slowly separates from its original source. These sculptures are obviously not a direct representation of the body, but something about their poetic curvature exudes femininity. The repetition in form is a testament to Asawa’s craft of woven wire, which could be considered an evolved form of basket weaving. The pieces themselves are highly abstracted, yet they are rooted in nature and geometry. The interlocking weavings seen in these sculptures brings to mind the same sort of natural pattern that is evident in a seashell or a plant, for example. Asawa weaves the metal wire with such attention, one cannot help but to feel the artist’s immersion within her sculptures.
A selection of Louise Bourgeois “Personages” sculptures create a nice juxtaposition next to the fluidity of Ruth Asawa’s pieces. Their sharp linear forms are placed about the center of the room, in a way that mimics the surrounding people strolling the gallery. Bourgeois created “Personages” between the years of 1945 and 1955 and there are around eighty sculptures in total. Out of the eighty, there are only about a dozen of the carved and painted wood sculptures on view at Hauser Wirth & Schimmel. The form of each of these pieces is individualized and inventive, yet there is a connectedness between the artist and her work that goes beyond the method used.
Each piece is representative of an individual Bourgeois knew personally. They all had some sort of relationship with Bourgeois that differed from the other, which is, perhaps the reason for their different characteristics. These sculpted portrayals can also be seen as a reflection of Bourgeois as a female and how her role as a women differs between each individual. This internal feminine experience exists within many of the pieces shown throughout the gallery, but most prominently in the work shown by Eva Hesse, Shiela Hicks, Ursula von Rydingsvard.
“Revolution in the Making: Abstract Sculpture by Women, 1947-2016” will be shown at Hauser Wirth & Schimmel until September 4th.
Hauser Wirth & Schimmel
901 East 3rd Street
Los Angeles, CA 90013
Wednesday, Friday – Sunday
11 am – 6 pm
11 am – 8 pm
Louise Bourgeois: No Exit is currently on view at the National Gallery of Art in Washington DC. Bourgeois (1911-2010) is best known for her large-scale sculptures, one of which is located in the museum’s sculpture garden. However, with twenty-one works, including drawings, prints, and sculptures, the exhibit provides an intimate look into the mind of a truly remarkable artist as she contemplated themes of life, death, domesticity, and womanhood.
The French-American artist was born to a prosperous Parisian family in 1911. Her family owned a gallery in Aubusson, the tapestry producing region of central France and home to Bourgeois’s mother’s family. The artist spent part of her childhood working in the gallery where her family sold and restored antique tapestries, helping repair them by filling in worn areas, using lines to indicate where stitches should be made. These experiences made a lasting impression, as displayed in Bourgeois’s early works on view in the National Gallery’s exhibition. The images recall the cascading rivers and mountain peaks of Aubusson, while simultaneously recalling the interweavings of textiles.
She began her long and prolific career as an artist in the early 1930s after being introduced to the Surrealists, whose ideology centered on the creative potential of the unconscious mind. After marrying the American art historian Robert Goldwater and moving to New York in 1938, she became reacquainted with the European Surrealists who were exiled during the war. Yet, the artist herself denied the label of a Surrealist. “At the mention of surrealism, I cringe. I am not a surrealist.” Still, it is difficult to separate the whimsicality and bizarre juxtapositions of her work from that of the Surrealists, or even their predecessors, the Dadaists. The works in the show bring to mind Francis Picabia’s mechanical portraits, Max Ernst’s collages, or Joan Miró’s landscapes.
Instead Bourgeois preferred the label of existentialist, admiring the works of Simone de Beauvoir, Albert Camus, and, of course, Jean-Paul Sartre. Sartre’s 1944 play, No Exit, from which the exhibition takes its name, is the story of three recently departed souls on their way to hell, anticipating the physical torment they are about to endure. As it turns out, the pain they experience in hell is not physical, but psychological. Their hell is being trapped in a room from which there is no escape for all eternity with the people they despise the most, each other – just imagine going to a dinner party with all the people you’ve ever blocked on Facebook, and then multiply that feeling by infinity. As Sartre famously says, “Hell is other people.”
While Bourgeois draws her inspiration from Sartre, her personal hell seems to be the absence of other people. The nine engravings and enigmatic parables that volume He Disappeared into Complete Silence (1947) show Bourgeois at her most Surreal. The subjects, ranging from a little girl who buried her coveted candy in the ground, only to find that it has been ruined by the damp soil, to a man who cuts up his wife and serves her at a dinner party, represent what the artist referred to as “tiny tragedies of human frustration.” The characters of her story show indifference, or even cruelty towards one another, conveying the deep sense of isolation that often embodies Bourgeois’s work. We are left with a sense of ambivalence towards them, they commit acts that signal both internal and external conflict. One plate tells the story of a loving but overbearing mother, and a son “of a quiet nature and rather intelligent,” but who is indifferent to his mother’s love. The prodigal son leaves, and later the mother dies without his knowledge. Three haunting, elongated figures occupy the space, prompting us to wonder who the third figure could be. The feeling we are left with is one of remorse and sympathy for the mother, but also for the son. The print could be semi-autobiographical, Bourgeois lost her mother at 21 years old, around the time she was beginning her career. This loss had a profound effect on her artwork, seen especially in her series Maman, and again in what could be seen as a companion piece, M is for Mother (1998). The latter, on view in the exhibit, is a drawing of an imposing letter M that conveys both maternal comfort and control. With such a conflict, Bourgeois forces us to question our relationships with those around us.
Like Sartre, she believed that free will was the essence of existentialist thought, but unlike Sartre, she also believed that our pasts inform our future. Deeply fixed memories inspired her oeuvre over the course of a remarkably long career. This reluctance to let go meant that she rarely considered a work finished, generally leaving open the possibility of a future iteration. One of her later books, the puritan (1990), deals precisely with this theme. This bound volume of eight hand-colored engravings on handmade paper takes place in New York, and is a story of lost love. “With the puritan,” Bourgeois explained, “I analyzed an episode forty years after it happened. I could see things from a distance…I put it on a grid…I considered the situation objectively, scientifically, not emotionally. I was interested not in anxiety, but in perspective, in seeing things from different points of view.”
A number of sculptures are included in the exhibit as well, ranging from her small but recognizable cast Germinal (1967), to the life-sized sculptures the artist referred to as “Personages.” These sculptures, Bourgeois said, were made to be exhibited at ground level so that they could be interacted with “like people.” While they exist in our space, they also stand isolated and detached. Made from modest, often discarded materials and employing simple methods of construction, these totemic figures reflect a wartime sensibility of salvage and reuse in a damaged environment.
Bourgeois’s work asks a timeless and essential question: in periods of conflict, uncertainty, or hostility, can we live meaningful lives? It seems to me that Bourgeois would say that it is in these moments that we are at our most authentic, and that the greatest struggle we have to overcome is not external, but internal. This is, however, a question Bourgeois would want us to answer for ourselves.
Louise Bourgeois: No Exit is on view until May 15, 2016.