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Bourgeois impresses viewers with muted, simplistic exhibit

Gallery Review

Published: Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Updated: Tuesday, April 6, 2010 07:04

Hang On Box

Courtesy The Institute of Contemporary Art / Boston

The thoughtful exhibition “Louise Bourgeois: Hang On !!” will be on display at the Barbara Krakow Gallery until May 1.

Hang On Maman

Courtesy the Institute of Contemporary Art / Boston

Bourgeois’ famous sculpture, “Maman,” is of a massive, 30-foot spider.

Louise Bourgeois occupies a prominent position in the art historical canon. At the distinguished age of 98, she is remarkably still making exciting works of art that capture imaginations around the world and cause countless visitors to flock to exhibitions that proudly display her creations.

Although she is best known for her large−scale sculptures that overpower viewers with ominous shapes and sexual innuendo, one can experience her art on a more intimate scale. In addition to creating giant sculptural creatures like the famous "Maman," a towering representation of a 30−foot−tall spider made in 1999, Bourgeois is also a talented draftswoman who has created beautiful works on paper. A collection of such works has been compiled at the Barbara Krakow Gallery in an exhibition titled "Louise Bourgeois: Hang On !!" which is on view now until May 1.

For those only interested in the controversial and confrontational aspects of Bourgeois' oeuvre, this is not the best exhibit. In fact, experiencing this exhibition is more like a meditative practice of active contemplation, in which viewers read a story between the works, rather than anything close to the shock and awe generally associated with Bourgeois' most celebrated art.

The unique pieces gathered at "Hang On!!" are subtle compositions of drawing, painting and etching combined with poetic text written by the artist herself. The nine on display are actually only part of a larger set that consists of 17 such works that can be read collectively, like a narrative poem, or as autonomous objects in and of themselves.

This interesting arrangement is further complicated by the fact that, although the works were numbered by Bourgeois, the curatorial staff at the Barbara Krakow Gallery chose to hang them out of order and to not display eight of the works that are part of the group. Although it is not indicated whether this is due to lack of space or if it was conceived as an artistic message, the layout of the show does allow for a certain level of open−ended interpretation on behalf of the viewers.

It would be inappropriate to label any of the parts of the exhibition as grand or even powerful, but that does not necessarily decrease their worth or effectiveness. Clearly, Bourgeois did not intend to overpower viewers when she created these pieces in 2005; so to judge the art on such a scale would be unfair. Instead, it appears that these works — containing thoughtful phrases such as "I want to go/ I want to want/ I want to find/ I want to finish/ I want to forge" — are more concerned with entrancing the viewer with their gestural brushstrokes and expressive lines.

There is an almost childlike sense of wonder associated with the artistic technique and textual content of these drawings. They are still erotically charged in a sense, due to the presence of voluptuous nude women wearing high heels and sexually aroused male figures, but there is simultaneously a sense of innocence. These contradictory aspects lend themselves to a somewhat mythical reading of the set, one that seems at once intimately personal to Bourgeois herself and yet universal in its ideals.

Despite all of this openness, it is important to recognize the formal aspects that Bourgeois employed when creating these works. These aspects are presented in a very minimalist format created by the presence of simple frames spread out across stark white walls — a setup that is representative of most shows at the Krakow Gallery.

This layout relates quite well to the compositions of the works themselves because they consist of large expanses of delicate paper that are only marginally occupied by small figures and tiny texts. The thin layers of brightly colored paints give the pieces a fleeting quality, making them seem like instinctive expressions of the artist's most intimate feelings about life.

This quiet show at the Krakow Gallery is not a grandiose artist's retrospective meant to draw in viewers with its exciting pieces, but it is a lovely opportunity to witness works by a talented artist that read more like pages from a private diary than a public manifesto. Bourgeois' exhibit is worth a quick stop on the next stroll down Newbury Street.

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Louise Bourgeois: Hang On !!

At the Barbara Krakow Gallery, through May 1
10 Newbury Street
Boston, Massachusetts 02116
617-262-4490

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