Monday, August 15, 2011

Drawn in Fabric

Even though I am a self-professed art lover, I am often loath to go see gallery shows. I have a lot of issues with the art industry and the commodification of art in general. Seriously, don’t get me started. Admittedly, my prejudices often get in the way of me seeing some truly incredible stuff, but more often than not, I resign myself to reading about shows rather than experiencing them in person, and often these exhibitions are long gone by the time I get the chance to read about them anyway. Case in point, I am still kicking myself over having missed this one. Gallery Cheim & Read recently put on a show of fabric drawings by one of my all-time favorite artists, Louise Bourgeois.

During her life, Louise Bourgeois created a vast body of work that included drawings, paintings, sculpture, installation, and assemblages of found objects, but she only received the critical recognition she deserved when she had her first retrospective at MoMA at the age of 71. Her work dealt with the psychological themes of family, home, childhood, as well as the body, sexuality, and pain. Her art is deeply personal, yet it always deeply resonates with something inside me. I am constantly surprised by how fresh and contemporary her work feels, consistently in touch with the current climate of what's happening in art today. These fabric drawings were made from old clothes that belonged to the artist and her family. 

I had the great honor of being invited to one of her famous salons before she passed away last year at the age of 98. Being granted an audience with one of the grande dames of the art world will always be one of the greatest experiences of my life. Before she joined the small coterie of artists who had gathered in her sitting room that Sunday, the tension in the air was palpable. Even after Louise took her seat behind the small table set up for people to spread out their drawings and photographs for her to see, every person in the room seemed to hold their breath until they were called. I was one of the last to go, my hands shaking as I untied the strings on my portfolio to show her some of my hair drawings and photographs of recent installations. She didn’t speak much at all that day, but looked with a quick concentration at every piece I pulled out and nodded her approval at each one I presented. After I‘d shown her everything I’d brought, I thanked her profusely for the opportunity and reached out and shook her hand, only remembering later with a knot of regret in my stomach that she didn’t like when people touched her, as she was a known germophobe and rarely left her house for fear of getting sick. Other things I’d heard before my appointment that day were that she wouldn’t hesitate to eviscerate an artist if she didn’t like their work. So I guess I didn’t do too bad, all things considered.

- Cathleen 

[All photos via Cheim & Read]

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