Exhibition Review

Spiral: Reviewing ‘Louise Bourgeois: Spiral’ at Cheim & Read, New York

Nina Blumberg | December 26, 2018

“The spiral - I love the spiral - represents control and freedom.”
- Louise Bourgeois

Upon entering Cheim & Read’s pristine gallery space, where the exhibition “Louise Bourgeois: Spiral” is currently on view, one is met instantly with a feeling of calm mixed with a quiet energy. There is both a sense of otherworldly stillness coupled with the perpetual motion implicated in the shape of the spiral, which is incorporated in some manner in each work of the exhibition. “Spirals” showcases a wide range of Bourgeois’ sculpture, paintings and drawings made between the 1950s and her death in 2010. To Bourgeois, the spiral symbolized the opposing poles of order and chaos, and she sought to recreate this ever-present tension in her artworks.

French-American artist Louise Bourgeois (1911-2010) is widely known in the art world for her fantastical and surrealistic sculptures and prints that incorporated an early usage of more unconventional artistic materials, such as resin, latex and cloth. Art was a deeply emotional and therapeutic outlet for Bourgeois -- a way to work through traumatic psychological events from her childhood. For instance, her father’s open infidelity with the family’s governess during her mother’s ongoing illness, left a remarkable impression on Bourgeois’ mental development. Bourgeois’ art practice thus served as a form of catharsis for her, as well as a way to reflect on themes that preoccupied her into adulthood, such as sexuality and anatomy, science and nature, domesticity and the family.

Louise Bourgeois drew on her life experiences to create a very specific and personal visual language in her oeuvre, consisting of repeated motifs and symbols, of which the spiral was very prevalent. The fact that one symbol could simultaneously encapsulate such polar opposite principles to her is an important note to underscore. It is likely that Bourgeois’ fascination with the spiral and other geometric forms stems from her studies of geometry and mathematics in her early 20s while studying at the Sorbonne. Concentrating on subjects that had fixed rules and order gave her peace of mind, according to the artist. Following her mother’s death in 1932, however, Bourgeois gave up mathematics to study art -- and the rest is, as they say, history. It is clear that her academic background had a long-term influence on her artistic practice as a whole, though, as in the case of the spiral.

Installation view, Louise Bourgeois: Spiral, 2018, Cheim & Read, New York
© The Easton Foundation/VAGA at ARS, NY.

The gallery has deftly juxtaposed artworks of various media against one another to fully emphasize the show’s curatorial premise and Bourgeois’ thoroughness in her exploration of this symbol. In the anteroom past the front desk, a smaller pale grey sculpture vaguely reminiscent of an anthill stands on a pedestal in the center of the room surrounded by smaller spiral prints and sculptures. In the main gallery, one encounters a large stand with thin, spindly arms, a circular spool of thread balancing precariously at the end of each one. In the back room, a round and shiny aluminum sculpture hangs suspended from the ceiling between sets of smaller red and blue spiral prints on either wall. These are just a few examples of the wide range of artworks included in this extensive investigation of Bourgeois’ spiral theme.

This particular exhibition is not only Louise Bourgeois’ ninth solo show at Cheim & Read, but will also be gallery’s final show at the gallery’s West 25th Street space in Chelsea, Manhattan. Following this final showing, the gallery will be transitioning to a “private practice” with a space uptown in Manhattan’s Upper East Side. “Louise Bourgeois: Spiral” is a very apt and well done “last hurrah” for the space, all things considered.

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