What a pleasant surprise it was to see that there is an exhibition of one of my favorite artists on at the moment. She passed away on the 31st of May this year, 99years of age, and still making, thinking ART.
The works in the Maison Balzac are loosely based on the character of Eugenie Grandet, by Honore Balzac, written in 1833 (bought book, will read, but it is a melancholy story). “I love that story, it could be the story of my life” (The Guardian Newspaper Sept. 2009). This exhibition was discussed with Bourgeois in 2008, during a retrospective of her work at the Pompidou, but she was already making works with Eugenie Grandet in mind by that time. The small spaces in the rooms of Balzac’s house are a perfect setting for these small and intimate works, done in pencil, guache and embroidery with found objects. The embroidery was done one small pieces of linen, part of her “trousseau” brought back from France when she married the American art historian Robert Goldwater in 1938.
Knowing that her works are always autobiographical makes it easier to “read”. An interesting drawing of a large tulip has sentences in each leaf, some of which i wrote down: “listening to the birds; listening to the pigeons; listening to the refrigerator; i have spent my days being afraid of the cold; i have spent my days afraid of waiting; letting out waists, shortening dresses; making a trousseau; i am not stupid, just unhappy; and so on. She had a life-long habit of writing her thoughts down on the pages of her sketchbooks, and some of these are re-produced on the walls of the house. They illuminate the meanings of her life’s work to the viewer. I had empathy for the quote that read: “Think you are wasting your time” because i often feel like that when trying to make art that is meaningful. She calls her sketches “visual thoughts”, and art brought her a “guarantee of mental health”.
Another important quote was: “My work is a succession of exorcisms, I transform with a sense of humor” This sense of humor helped her to avoid the pitfalls of being soppy or insipid. The main “exorcism” is the childhood memory of a father who had an ongoing affair with the children’s English governess. Her mother, an “intelligent, patient and enduring” woman, decided to ignore this fact, turning to her job as manager of the family workshop repairing oriental carpets. “Maman” the title Bourgeois gave to a series of huge spiders, one of which I saw at the Tate Modern just after it opened, was devoted to her mother, because: “If you bash into a spider’s web, she doesn’t get mad, she weaves and repairs”. An earlier installation that i saw in the 1980’s at MOMA in New York, alludes directly to her father and is called “Destruction of the Father” (1974). This is a huge peice that fills a “room” with organic, breast-like shapes, on the table and hanging from the roof, all made of rubber-latex. She hated her father for his explosive temper, his domination of the household and his infidelity.
The pieces in this exhibition are quieter, and rather reflect the insecurities of her age. She is thinking back a lot on her youth, using the old pieces of embroidery material, on which she embroiders a clock face with flowers on the arms, old buttons and beads sewn on, old silk flowers. The picture of Eugenie Grandet was painted on wet paper, so the strokes flows freely to blur the image, because in the words of Balzac Eugenie was a married woman with children, but who “n’ a ni mari, ni enfants, ni famille” (she never felt part of the world she lived in) – is that why Bourgeois feels so attracted to the character?
I had to use the pictures out of a magazine, because i wasn’t allowed to take pictures in the museum, sorry.