Louise Bourgeois | HOW TO SEE the artist with Sewon Kang

Louise Bourgeois | HOW TO SEE the artist with Sewon Kang


Welcome to the Museum of Modern Art. Here we are on the third floor in front of
“Louise Bourgeois: An Unfolding Portrait.” My name is Sewon Kang and I’m the curatorial
assistant helping Debbie Wai to curate the show. Louise Bourgeois was a French-born, American
artist. She was first trained as a painter and a printmaker. And she only started to make sculpture in
the ’30s and ’40s, when she moved to New York with her American husband, the well-regarded
art historian, Robert Goldwater. She was just enamored with the skyscrapers
of New York. She was just thrilled by their verticality. That they were monuments to human achievement
was really exciting to her. And so she started to make these very anthropomorphized
works that harken to the skyscrapers that were all around her. Louise Bourgeois was most well known for her
sculptures, her large-scale spiders and cells. But with this exhibition, we’re trying to
show a lesser-known part of her practice, which is the prints and the books. But first, a drawing from the ’40s. This is called “Sainte Sébastienne,” and
you can see it’s a similar feel as the totems you saw in the other room. Saint Sebastian was an early Christian martyr
and saint, and in the Renaissance, he started to be depicted as this perfect, young man
being impaled with arrows. And in this moment of, maybe, his death he’s
in incredible pain. You see he’s, sort of like, in
this agony and this ecstasy. He’s just perishing. He’s been taken up as a subject by a lot of
different artists because of this, sort of, non-normative depiction of desire and death. But Louise Borgeois, in particular, was interested
in it as a depiction of pain. And so she called this “Sainte Sébastienne,”
because she wanted to feminize this very famous or historical trope. This is the same subject, “Sainte
Sébastienne,” that she did in the ’90s. So you see here that the figures come back
into the work with exaggerated features, so you don’t have any doubts that it’s a woman
version of the saint. And it’s done in the printmaking technique,
drypoint. And what’s particularly fun and interesting
about her making, is that you can see how an artist’s imagination unfolds. That’s where the title of the exhibition comes
from actually. It was a very generative medium for her in this way. She loved working on the same image again
and again, and so each one became a different exploration of the same topic. She likened the arrows to antagonisms, to
criticisms that she received, and that’s where this angry cat face comes out. It’s, sort of, her mask, her protection. So this wall is all working proofs. And then the final products are over here. So these are two versions of the same image
that Louise ended up editioning. And, in this example, it’s stamped with the
metal sealing stamp of her father. And she talked a lot about how her father
was very antagonistic toward her, that he criticized her all the time, embarrassing
her in front of their guests. And it really affected her. So in the second version, she’s created her
own metal sealing stamp. She and her father shared the same initials. His name was Louis, and she was named Louise. Actually, they were expecting a son and
her mom named her Louise, because she wanted to endear the child, who wasn’t a boy, to
her father. But in contrast to her father’s metal sealing
stamp, which is very hard to read, this calligraphic LB, Louise’s is much more geometric, much
more legible. And she did that because she said she wanted
to be readable. She wanted people to understand her. And she said that, “If people understood me,
they couldn’t help but love me.” So here you see three eggs in this very strange and elaborate hairdo. She said that those were her three sons. And, of course, she made this in the ’90s. Her sons were very much grown, and yet she
was looking to protect them from the criticisms that she received herself. And in this very large version you see here,
you see that she’s failed. She loses her head because she can’t withstand
all of the pain of the antagonisms. And she likened these lines in the woman’s
form to tree rings. Saint Sebastian, in traditional renderings,
is usually tied to a tree, and so you see here that the woman has become the tree. So these works are all from the ’90s, when
she was an 80-year old woman. She is highly prolific. She was making art until the very last days
of her life when she died at 98. But I also wanna show you this earlier work
that’s very much related to these works from the ’90s. So this is a self-portrait, another self-portrait
of Louise as a “bird woman.” And you see again the three eggs in the bowl. That’s, again, her three sons. And in contrast to the “Sainte Sébastienne”
works, this is a really happy scene. And you can tell it’s a happy scene, because
of her beautiful long hair and because of her pearl necklace. Those were recurring motifs in her life. And so you can see she’s in a very good mood
in this image, but she described it in a way that reminds you of her pain and
that the subject of pain was the business she was in. That’s what she said. She said that she’s ready to protect her eggs,
but if she needs to, she can also take flight. If she needs to get away, she can make a getaway. So since I’ve only been able to show you a
small portion of the works in the exhibition, I hope you’ll come in to the museum to see
it yourself. And please check out “Louise Bourgeois: The
Complete Prints & Books,” which is the online catalog of all of her works in the
medium. And we hope you’ll check out the YouTube channel
to learn more about Louise Bourgeois and other happenings at the museum.

9 thoughts on “Louise Bourgeois | HOW TO SEE the artist with Sewon Kang

  1. great explanation!

  2. Honestly I find it difficult to rate art when it is technically incredibly crude, or frankly not particularly good, but then has apparently has some meaning. I mean great you have three ovals that are eggs that represent her kids but then there are millions (literally millions) of people that can draw incredibly well. Seems a bit strange how we decide who gets put on the pedestal.

  3. I saw this show and thought it was fantastic.

  4. <3

  5. great video, very interesting! thank you!

  6. I loved this! Well done, Sewon.

  7. Love this video. Not the art

  8. i really thank you for providing an insight to her work, thank you!

  9. Great work !!

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