Sunday, February 8, 2009

Tu me manques (French for "I Miss You")

Ok, I had a moment of calm in my ongoing war with Louise Bourgeois. I found a work of hers whose philosophical/aesthetic meaning I can understand, even empathize with (a true first). It was early in her career (as in, the 1940's). She had married her brilliant, Harvard-bred, up-and-coming art historian husband, Robert Goldwater, a few years previously. He had uprooted her from her native France and her (as we shall discover decades later) traumatic family life therein. They lived in New York with three sons and she was developing sculpture as an outlet from the trials of motherhood and baby-boomer-era feminine oppression, as much as she could, being poor and living in a little apartment. Now, I'm going to tell you a hunch I have about Louise Bourgeois, that most of the people running around my museum would disagree with: I think she's famous because she provides a playground for art history's intellectually-ravenous minds. Truly, the professionals consume ideas about her like normal people down their favorite TV shows. I'm mystified when I read artists (normally the most serious and dedicated characters) turn out writing like this whenever they come before the throne of Bourgeois: "My mouth was saying one set of words but my mind was completely thinking another. I show her pictures of my cat Docket. I love my cat. He's my soul mate. I explain this to Louise but she appears to get a little bit gruff... As I left Louise's I wondered if one day someone would visit her and would see a film of me, laughing. I left Louise Bourgeois knowing there was so much more to know."

.... ok, whatever. When I met Twitch (a famous hip hop dancer from So You Think You Can Dance) the only words that came out of my mouth were "Twitch...I love you!" So I guess I can't judge too harshly. Back to the story. During the 40's and also during pretty much every other decade of her life, Louise Bourgeois happened to rub shoulders with some of the greatest minds and most influential artists of the era. Granted, most of the time she hated these people, and her art was a radical departure from their formal norms and their avant-garde ideas (Surrealism was the haven of misogynists, she thought. And Abstract Expressionism was too removed from reality.) As such, she was never famous alongside them. I think the thing that all these fanatical, pH.D.-holding fans of hers today adore so much is how she makes a fascinating case study of one person-- a marginalized housewife squeezed into the very eye of last century's stylistic storm-- developing her own independant style, her own flavor (kind of like Henry Ossawa Tanner, in his Annunciation). What's even more remarkable about her is the way she seems to have anticipated the next decade's artistic developments. She provides a veritable encyclopedia of references to all of the different movements of last century in her morphing, erratic oeuvre (that means her entire list of works). She was always changing her art, in a manner different than everyone around her, and multiple times her work ended up looking a lot like art that would get popular 20 years later! Everyone always wants to know how she did it, and so they dig into her crazy mounds of diaries and start reading about her emotionally abusive dad and her dealings with anxiety and then everybody gets all excited when they match those stories up with sculptures she made later of, oh, say, a knife cutting through the middle of a woman with the torse of a mattress (read into all of that on your own, I'm avoiding the whole 60's era of her work. Shudder.)

Ah I'm starting to sound like THEM. Ok, back to the story. There she is. New York. She carves these large, crude, "personage" sculptures out of 2x4's (when you're in New York, that's what's available I guess). She made them all different because each one represented someone she missed back in France. These life-sized Personages represent her own personal iconography. She wanted to put her memories out into the exterior world as a reminder of people elsewhere, and so made these simple sculptures as a symbol of each person's characteristics as she remembered them. We do the same thing today. For instance, in my cell phone, many of my favorite people's names are not actually listed. Rather, there's Best Bud, JBro, Sarasian, Davey Cuz, HQ, Zmoosy, Racey, Auntie J, and Wee. I create names that only I will remember and understand, usually because it makes me smile, and makes me remember why I love them when they pop up on my caller id.

I missed my friends a lot this week. I'm not yet to the point where I would carve out their effigies and plunge them into my floor and sit among them like batty Bourgeois did above^, but I missed them nevertheless (Thank heaven for cell phones).
Adventure Recount: I went to duPont Circle this week with my boss Milena. It's this way old cute part of DC, and it's where a lot of embassies are. Countires have bought up all the old beautiful buildings and made them their headquarter.. I'll try and go and get pictures next time. It reminded me of Back Bay in Boston, which reminds me of London. Milena and I got to go into this old skinny row-house gallery and preview a show before it opened. I love being her little stooge. Afterwards she directed me to a cute bookstore and told me to go have fun and see the sights. So I went and mingled with the Indie crowd for a while, pretending to be interested in books about Al Gore, Zen, organic cooking, and poetry. That was my biggest adventure of the week.


Jayci said...

I want to repeat every part of your entry with you in person so you can see my smile and know how much I enjoy reading your blog. She actually sad amongst those things?? creeepy - but your cell phone idea is really cute. I have a few fun names in my cell phone, but you are by far more creative. I wonder what name you'd give me. :oP have at it, and let me know. haha

Hope hanging with the indie kids brought you to a 'new intellectual level' of the art of pretending. :D haHA! good ole' Al Gore.... ugh.

I'm excited to see pictures of the old part of DC!

MOM said...

I kind of actually liked her "personage" pals. I wonder what you'd look like? Oh yeah, a popsicle stick. hehe

Anyway, it was nice to learn about the woman whose art you dislike so much. You're not going to send us any of that really yucky stuff, are you? eeekk! We like that you "uplift" us. And hey, cool background stuff and red lettering. It felt like I was reading somewhere in England. :) And yes...please send pictures! I still want to see your apartment complex and maybe a shot down your street, and the Pentagon Station, and your shuttle to it, and your grocery store you get to walk to each week, and your museum, and more of you and your roommates please! Thanks! Love you, MOM

Colby and Katie said...

WHAT?!?! A blog. ha. I love it! And do I have a "real" name in your phone? just curious. I just got off work and saw you called...will be calling later. YAY!