Heads and Bodies: Xavier Hufkens Presents Late Works by Louise Bourgeois

Over the course of her long life, the legendary Louise Bourgeois made sculptures, installations, and works on paper charged with emotion. She was still actively producing art well into her eighties and nineties, including her hand-sewn, sculptural heads and sensual gouache-on-paper drawings of women. Both series are now on view at Xavier Hufkens in an intimate exhibition titled “Louise Bourgeois: Les têtes bleues et les femmes rouges.” Her lifelong fascination with the dynamics of, family, gender, and psychology emerges in both two and three dimensions.

  • Installation view, “Louise Bourgeois: Les têtes bleues et les femmes rouges,” 2015. Courtesy Xavier Hufkens, Brussels. 

Textiles and sewing filled the artist’s childhood. Her parents restored and repaired tapestries, and Bourgeois frequently helped in their atelier. For her, sewing was not only an act of reconstruction, but a way of working through troubling family issues. (She famously cited her father’s infidelity as one source of childhood trauma.)  Embracing her family’s craft, she channeled her emotions into this series of small, blue heads. To make them, she started from the inside and worked her way out, first constructing an inner core and then layering onto it pieces of fabric, which she sewed and modeled into expressive faces. Her rough stitching, loose threads, and puckered edges emphasize the patched-together nature of these heads and suggest the fissures and healing that characterize human relationships, as well as the fragmented self. In some cases, the heads dangle from the ceilings of cages or sit inside claustrophobic glass boxes.

  • Installation view, “Louise Bourgeois: Les têtes bleues et les femmes rouges,” 2015. Courtesy Xavier Hufkens, Brussels. 

While her blue heads appear masculine, the artist’s pink and red gouache drawings are wholly feminine. Each one features an ample-bodied female figure, rendered as if pressed or flattened against the page. Bourgeois made these compositions by allowing the wet gouache to run and spread beyond the control of her brush. The resulting forms have a sense of lushness and motion despite their two-dimensionality. Some resemble female bodies that are pregnant with a blue fetus, and the way they echo the blue heads trapped in cages is unnerving.  Together, both heads and bodies testify to the themes that occupied Bourgeois until the end of her life: masculinity and femininity, body and mind, creativity and inertia, and the unceasing cycle of life and death.

  • Louise Bourgeois, TÊTE V, 2004. Courtesy Xavier Hufkens, Brussels. 

Karen Kedmey

Louise Bourgeois: Les têtes bleues et les femmes rouges” is on view at Xavier Hufkens, Brussels, Sept. 11 – Oct. 31, 2015.

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