Louise Bourgeois: The Fabric Works at Cheim & Read

When artist and sculptor Louise Bourgeois passed away in 2010 at the age of 98, she left behind a staggeringly rich legacy of art created in a multitude of mediums. Geoffrey and I were fortunate to be able to attend the Guggenheim Museum’s ambitious and highly successful 2008 Retrospective of her life’s work, which was possibly the most comprehensive and impressive retrospective I’ve yet seen. I mean, the woman did everything. What an amazing talent and what a huge loss to the art world, but how lucky were we to have her for 98 years? So lucky.

Through June 25, 2011, Cheim & Read Gallery in NYC is hosting an exhibition of Louise Bourgeois’ works in fabric, dating from 2002 – 2010. Bourgeois’ fabric “drawings” – which became a central focus in the last decade of her life – are assembled from discarded clothes, sheets, towels and similar material from her personal collection. Significant in their own right for their formal invention and beauty, the drawings constitute a parallel body of work to that of her 3D fabric sculptures, which often mimicked human forms (a couple of these larger sculptures are also on display here). The number of Fabric Works in this exhibit makes it easy to grasp the fact that, even at such an advanced age, Louise Bourgeois never stopped creating her art.

Coinciding with an inclination in her later years to stay closer to home, Bourgeois’ late fabric works provide a sense of introspection – her wardrobe and linen closet became representative of memory. As Bourgeois has stated, “Clothing is…an exercise of memory. It makes me explore the past…like little signposts in the search for the past.” The re-appropriation of her husband’s handkerchiefs, stained tablecloths and napkins, and worn dresses from all phases of her life infuses the work with a confessional, talismanic aura. The artist’s use of fabric also references her personal history. She grew up in her parent’s tapestry restoration business; her childhood surrounded by the reparation of 17th and 18th century textiles.

Bourgeois’s later fabric collages and assemblages – their many disparate pieces assembled and sewed together – attest to the early influence of this restorative process, as well as to the conceptual and psychological connotations of the words associated with it: cut, unravel, weave, knot, stitch, mend. Bourgeois said, “I always had the fear of being separated and abandoned. The sewing is my attempt to keep things together and make things whole.”

While the photos in this post fail to show close-up detail, when you can examine the “drawings” in person it’s evident that, even though her eyesight might have been failing, Louise Bourgeois’ artistic vision was clear through her final days. A must see exhibit for any fans of her work.

Cheim & Read is Located at 547 West 25th Street New York, NY 10001. Gallery Hours are Tuesday – Saturday 10 AM – 6 PM.

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