Bourgeois' earlier workers explore solitude
By Kwon Mee-yoo
French-American sculptor Louise Bourgeois’ earlier works are on display at “Personages,” an exhibition at the third building of Kukje Gallery in Samcheong-dong, central Seoul.
These sculptures portray the solitude of a stranger.
The artist is mostly known for her “Maman” series of spider-shaped sculptures, which symbolize maternal instinct. In Korea, “Maman” can be seen at Leeum in Hannam-dong, Seoul.
However, this exhibit does not feature a single spider sculpture, but a herd of abstract works and a cage-like structure, giving a contrast yet a continuing theme of Bourgeois’ style throughout her life. This is Bourgeois’ fifth solo exhibition at Kukje Gallery and the first in Korea after her passing in 2010 at the age of 98.
Upon entering the gallery, 13 longish sculptures greet visitors. They are installed on the floor and are the height of an average person, giving visitors the sensation of being in a crowd of people.
These are the “Personages” series, the first of her sculptural works exhibited from 1949.
Born in Paris in 1911, Bourgeois moved from her hometown to New York after marrying American art historian Robert Goldwater in the 1940s. The transfer brought changes in her art as she had to live in a new place as a wife and mother.
“She had a nostalgia of the people she left in Paris and embodied them in these anthropomorphic sculptures,” Hong Nam-gyeong, curator of the exhibit told The Korea Times. “She was influenced by various styles including Alberto Giacometti’s existentialism and primitivism in modern art, which was her husband’s field.”
While her earlier works were made from a single block of wood, later works in the “Personage” series are in more complex forms with repetitive shapes.
Though abstract in style, the sculptures are keen in capturing details. “Figure Regardant Une Maison” shows two people looking at a house, while “Woman with Packages” is complete with small lumps on each side of the slim figure.
These pieces look like they are made from wood, but Bourgeois cast bronze statues from the original wooden ones some 30 years later. Painted carefully with detailed texture, it is hard to recognize the material even when observed closely.
The exhibit gives an idea of how Bourgeois’ art developed throughout her life by placing her earlier works and those from a later stage beyond space and time.
On the other side of the wall, a big steel cage sits “Peaux de Lapins, Chiffons Ferrailles a Vendre” (2006). This is part of her later works known as the “Cell” series.
The long title comes from a French folk song. “This is Bourgeois’ interpretation of a song from her childhood. In this cell-like cage, she revives her childhood memories,” Hong said.
The door of the circular cage is ajar and rabbit fur and thin fabric is suspended inside the enclosure. A slender sculpture in the middle of the cage, with a scrap of rabbit fur on top reminds one of her earlier pieces. Flimsy suspended objects bear a resemblance to human bodies or body parts.
“Bourgeois was a pioneer in sublimating self confession to art and influenced many other female artists who came after her,” the curator said.
The small, tight white cube is an ideal place to appreciate Bourgeois’ works. The new Kukje Gallery K3 building, designed by SO-IL Architects, maximizes the effect of the white cube by pushing out all other structures outside it. The outside of the building is covered with a mesh of stainless steel rings.
“Personages” runs through June 29. Admission is free.
For more information, visit www.kukjegallery.com or call (02) 735-8449.