Cheim & Read has a must-see exhibit up through January by one of our favorite artists, renowned French-American sculptor Louise Bourgeois. The sculptures in this exhibition, which, appropriately, is called Suspension, all hang from the ceiling, which was lots of fun to experience at the very crowded reception on October 30th. The show also includes a group of drawings from the 1940s, in which pendulous forms are delineated in black ink, the selection of works traces the theme of suspension throughout Bourgeois’s long career. I actually didn’t discover her work until I saw her massive career retrospective at the Guggenheim back in 2008. She passed away in 2010 at the age of 98.
Spanning more than forty-five years – from the organic Lair forms of the early 1960s and the Janus series of 1968, to the cloth figures of the 1990s, the hanging heads of the 2000s, and the torqued spirals of shining aluminum made in the last years of Bourgeois’s life – these hanging sculptures demonstrate the myriad ways in which she approached material, form and scale. Like all of Bourgeois’s works, they are also highly autobiographical.
The very physicality of Bourgeois’s work – its density and weight – is offset by the seemingly effortless, floating state in which they are presented. Eschewing the traditional sculptural base, Bourgeois positions her work in dialogue with the viewer and surrounding environment. Tethered to the ceiling but by no means static, her sculptures have the potential to revolve on their axes, providing a sense of movement and instability.
The implied vulnerability is especially profound in works like the polished bronze Arch of Hysteria (1993), in which a male figure hangs from a cord attached at the pelvis.
The double-headed fabric Arch of Hysteria (2004), in which male and female torsos are fused and hung at the waist; or the bronze Femme (2005), which is suspended by the figure’s pregnant abdomen.
Other works are similarly evocative. In Henriette (1985), a portrait of the artist’s sister, a single prosthetic leg never reaches solid ground, while the elongated rubber legs of Legs (1988) stop just shy of the floor. The soft folds and flaccid double ends of the androgynous Janus series (1968), though cast in bronze, seem exposed and defenseless. One – Hanging Janus with Jacket – seeks protection under a hard outer shell. The Quartered One (1964-65), conjures images of beef hanging in a slaughterhouse.
Late works, like Untitled (2004, Top photo in this post) and The Couple (2007-09), manifest the implications of suspension within their forms – coils of aluminum weave in and out and over each other, as if echoing the spiraling and spinning of which they are capable. Various associations with hanging – suicide and murder, as well as the connection between mother and child through the umbilical cord – are further explored in the exhibits catalogue by Robert Pincus-Witten, as he examines the trajectory of Bourgeois’s work.
Suspension by Louise Bourgeois will be on Exhibit Through January 10, 2015 at Cheim and Read, Located at 547 West 25th Street, in the Chelsea Gallery District.