Louise Bourgeois exhibition at Heide museum

Victoria’s Heide Museum of Modern Art pays a localised tribute to the work and influence of Louise Bourgeois, known as the founder of confessional art.

When the guv’nor of all art criticism, the late, great Robert Hughes, penned his tartly observed 1997 epic American Visions, he anointed Louise Bourgeois “the mother of American feminist identity art”.

“Her work asked questions by rummaging, painfully, in her own psyche,” he noted of the then 85-year-old French-born American artist who, having lived through every ‘ism’ of 20th-century art (circumventing them all) stood alone and relatively unknown until the 1980s, for acutely personal stories (many turning on the childhood trauma wrought by her tyrannical father’s philandering) in sexually referential work that showed women as the irreducible sum of their body parts.

“What images can art find for depicting femaleness from within, as distinct from the familiar male conventions of looking at it from the outside, from the eye-line of another gender?” Hughes questioned in a commentary that implied no precedents. “ …[Her] influence on young artists has been enormous.” By showing that art could conjure another view and that subject matter could determine material resolutions, Bourgeois, who was still creating just before she died in 2010 at the hyper-active age of 98, galvanised many of the next-gen greats.

Eva Hesse, Sophie Calle, Bruce Nauman, Barbara Kruger and Jenny Holzer all made name with their own idiosyncratic shtick that still orbited around her sun. You have to wonder whether Holzer’s Truisms would have taken on such conceptual weight, whether Cindy Sherman’s self-portraits would be deemed so ferociously ironic, or Tracey Emin’s soiled sheets be considered such embarrassingly glorious confessional art if Bourgeois had not blazed the trail of identity politics, psycho-analytic aesthetics and raw, emotional honesty.

To localise the point, whether Del Kathryn Barton’s fecundity in fabric would be considered anything other than X-rated craft had Bourgeois not cut up hoarded clothes and effected psychological repairs in stitched effigies that emotionally articulated her fear of being separated and abandoned.  “I had a weak-at-the-knees, tingle-all-over moment when I saw Louise Bourgeois’s work for the first time about 15 years ago,” recalls Barton. “And yes I am a crazy fan. And, yes, it’s true I lay under her big spider in Tokyo and cried… These are the releases I hope for in our vast world of art.”

Perhaps best known for the gargantuan arachnids that are explicit metaphors for her mother’s expert spinning, weaving and forbearing in the face of marital betrayal, Bourgeois also embedded her own struggle in the archetype of the seemingly fragile spider. It hangs by a thread, possesses incredible inner strength and has a capacity for invading houses – just like Bourgeois’s course-staying struggle through half a century of neglect to make the macho New York art scene her own.

The artist’s legacy will be both legible and localised when Victoria’s Heide Museum of Modern Art launches Louise Bourgeois: Late Works on November 24. This bi-partite exhibition will juxtapose a selection of key, late, never-before-seen (in Australia) Bourgeois works in Heide III gallery, with a selection of contemporary works by Bourgeois-inspired Australian artists, including Barton, Kate Just, Patricia Piccinini, Brent Harris, Janet Burchill, Kathy Temin, Pat Brassington and Carolyn Eskdale, in Heide II.

According to Heide director Jason Smith, who pulled off the curatorial coup on the back of a friendship forged with Bourgeois’s studio assistant, Jerry Gorovoy, when the pair collaborated on the artist’s retrospective at the National Gallery of Victoria in 1995, this museum sampling will unravel some of the motivations behind Bourgeois’s art. “Yes, there are the oft-told stories of the father and the mistress, but it is Bourgeois’s intense love of her mother and her [mother’s] death that completely transformed her life,” says Smith. “The art ultimately became about her never-ending grief… and her continuing desire  as a woman. It’s still so potent; not just as a memory, but as a constant.”

Witness the ‘constant’ reach of Spiderwoman’s web at Louise Bourgeois: Late Works, from 24 November to 10 March, 2013, at Heide Museum of Modern Art, 7 Templestowe Road, Bulleen, Vic, (03) 9850 1500.

Producer/text: Annemarie Kiely


Tell us in 25 words or less, why do you want to win tickets to the Louise Bourgeois exhibition at Heide museum?

Email your entry plus your name and contact number, to mail@vogueliving.com.au with ‘Louise Bourgeois competition’ in the subject line.

This competition closes on 14 November 2012 with winners contacted by email.

Terms & Conditions of Vogue Living/Louise Bourgeois competition
Entry open to Australian residents aged 18 or over. Competition opens at 12.01am (AEST) on 12/12/2012 and closes at 11.59pm (AEST) on 14/11/2012. Winners judged on 16/11/2012 at 12:00 PM AEST at News Life Media of 180 Bourke Road, Alexandria, NSW 2015. Winner notified by within 1 day of determination. Full terms and conditions available at <span face=”Arial” style=”font-family: http://www.newsmagazines.com.au/terms/vogue-living,363. Promoter is NewsLifemedia Pty Ltd.

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  1. […] . Robert Hughes quoted by Annemarie Kiely on the Vogue Living Blog […]

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