In Memoriam: Louise Bourgeois

By way of full disclosure (and illustration of how tuned in to contemporary art I am), I wasn’t sure who Louise Bourgeois was when I heard she’d died. Then S said “giant spider.” Aha!

We saw a couple of her colossal spiders when they were at the Tate Modern, I think in ’04. Love. I didn’t recall that she viewed her spider series as a manifestation of her mother, though I must have seen the title of the piece – the one in Ottawa is called “Maman” – and that couldn’t be any clearer. I know that this sounds like retcon bullshittery on my behalf, but I can totally see it. I remember standing under the abdomen of one of the spiders, which had a bellyful of creeptastic marble eggs. The way it towered overhead was psychologically daunting, yet those eggs were protected by their cage and those immense, delicate-yet-terrifying legs.

Much has been made of the way Bourgeois was underappreciated until she burst onto the scene in 1982 with a MoMA retrospective. There’s a great Mapplethorpe portrait taken for the occasion (at left and linked off the NYT obit). Although Bourgeois participated in many exhibitions prior to the retrospective, her work seemed finally to gel with the zeitgeist late in her life. Or is it that the work that she began doing in that period was the culmination of her particular artistic path? I don’t know enough to say.

But it begs a question that I often think about, which is how one is supposed to sustain one’s art in the face of only middling success or worse, utter indifference. My current strategy is to produce like mad and then hoard the results, only dispensing bits of it as required in workshop. No one can reject you if you don’t give them the chance! Le sigh. I write for myself, but also for reasons I can’t completely articulate.

Maybe it’s something like the lady said: “Everywhere in the modern world there is neglect, the need to be recognized, which is not satisfied. Art is a way of recognizing oneself, which is why it will always be modern.”

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