In a Landmark Show, Dasha Zhukova’s Garage Museum Spotlights Louise Bourgeois’s Late Work
Louise Bourgeois made art until she died in 2010, leaving over 70 years of work in her wake. A hoarder of sorts, Bourgeois kept everything from gas receipts to passages from her favorite poems. Logged in diaries and stacked on shelves, these personal artifacts filled the Manhattan townhouse that she shared with her husband, Robert Goldwater, and their children. It was this nostalgic attachment to texts and materials that features most prominently in her later, and perhaps most substantial, body of work, “The Cells.”
Constructed from found doors, fences, furniture, and cast body parts, Bourgeois’s “Cells” exist somewhere between cabinets of curiosities and cages. Each one is a small universe, a piece of the artist’s memory. At Garage Museum of Contemporary Art in Moscow, these precious galaxies are brought together for a landmark show that consumes the entirety of the Rem Koolhaas-designed space.
Organized by and first shown at Haus der Kunst in Munich, “Structures of Existence: The Cells” travels to Moscow for its second stop on a world tour. The exhibition’s installment here represents a sort of homecoming for Bourgeois, who visited Russia in the early 1930s (right before she launched into the first chapter of her art practice). Focused mainly on the artist’s later works, the show is contextualized by a selection of early drawings, sculptures, and paintings. Displayed under glass vitrines and more intimate in scale, these works help to introduce Bourgeois’s obsessions, such as her interest in the externalization of emotions and its relationship to the body. Characters and phrases from these works echo throughout her career—and through the halls of the sprawling exhibition.
Created in her industrial Brooklyn studio, Bourgeois’s haunting installations appear at home against the concrete-and-exposed-brick walls of Garage. “Louise was adamant about not showing in white-cube spaces because they made her uncomfortable,” said chief curator Kate Fowle, explaining the museum’s choice to show Bourgeois as their first major solo exhibition. “With ‘The Cells,’ she created environments to protect her ideas from these kind of spaces. It made sense for us to present this work at Garage because we’ve also strived to create a more intimate art-viewing experience.”
Organized somewhat chronologically, the exhibition begins with a series of sculptural forts made out of doors and which later informed the formal enclosures of “The Cells.” Created as 360-degree installations, these small rooms transform viewers into voyeurs as they attempt to peek between the slatted, short walls to see the rooms and their foreboding contents—marble hands, patchwork blankets, empty perfume bottles, diabolical dolls. This paradoxical combination of repulsive and alluring objects resonates with the overall experience of viewing the show.
On the museum’s ground floor, two major sculptures dominate the landscape. The first, one of Bourgeois’s signature pieces, Maman (1999)—a monumental spider—towers outside of the entrance, beckoning in visitors and thus embodying the museum’s mission to bring contemporary art into the wider public consciousness. “For Moscow, this show is like a teleport to another place. It offers people a way to experience something new and hopefully enrich the social culture of the city,” says Anton Belov, the museum’s director. “It is also raising the city’s cultural profile. We want the people here to be proud of the level of art that is being shown in Moscow.”
The second sculpture, a never-before-realized piece entitled Has the Day Invaded the Night or Has the Night Invaded the Day? (2007) fills up Garage’s two-story entrance hall. Shaped like a gigantic beauty mirror and rising over six meters high, the selfie-friendly, reflective sculpture casts an imposing shadow over the lobby, but its allure is almost irresistible. At the show’s opening, guests were drawn to the piece almost instinctively—a coup to Bourgeois and the museum’s ability to walk the line between the appeal of both familiarity and novelty.
“Louise Bourgeois. Structures of Existence: The Cells” is on view at Garage Museum of Contemporary Art, Moscow, Sept. 25-Feb. 7, 2016.