In the same way that the Matisse show in London at the moment reveals the mastery and freedom of an artist as he ages, so this exhibition gives us insight into the preoccupations and forces that motivated Louise Bourgeois.
Born in 1911 in Paris, the artist continued to make art until her death in New York in 2010 at the age of 98.
Bourgeois’s imagery deals with the cycle of life (childhood, motherhood, bereavement), the erotic and the relationship of man and woman with their various traits and ambivalences.
There are some wonderful works here which, though not always comfortable to look at, nevertheless beguile and puzzle.
The bronzes, produced over time, perhaps best illustrate Bourgeois’ consummate skill as a sculptor and her fascination with duality.
The exquisite Nature Study reveals a woman on the palm of a hand, her hair girdled around the wrist.
Bourgeois said: “My pieces of sculpture (usually figures) do not represent only study in forms – they represent emotional states usually of a painful kind.”
Painful or puzzling, deeply laced with ambiguity, the sculptures Fallen Woman, Tits, Nature Study, Spiral Woman and Janus Fleuri, sometimes hanging at eye level, appear to be sexually charged although they are ambivalent, encompassing female and male attributes.
The large cloth pieces – suspended again and made from shirts, aprons, tights and socks, as in Couple, Single 11 – have a visceral material immediacy but are also full of mystery and symbolism.
The work is charged, full of emotion and consequently rather thrilling to digest.
Throughout her life Louise Bourgeois addressed her musings and preoccupations with unflinching courage. The work she produced is beguiling, fascinating and occasionally repellent.
L’Infini, an arrangement of 16 large drawings in a grid, occupies the main gallery wall. Its scale is enveloping. Each piece has a left to right diagonal which provides consistency upon which spiralling lines freefall and images depicting female bodies, childbirth, a couple and strange organs flow.
Rendered in red paint like blood smudged across a surface, life is conveyed as a journey punctuated by birth, love, sexuality and death.
It is wonderful to see the work of a confident and assured woman artist who wrote: “Of what is your silence made?
“My silence is made of memories, comfort and tenderness... when there is silence we live by our eyes.” There is much to see in this show, many chords to be struck, many resonances to be quarried. Be sure to see it.
Louise Bourgeois: A Woman Without Secrets is at mima until October 12.
Professor Gerda Roper