A red thread might run through our lives, but seldom do we get to see it measured out in paintings, sculptures, and more. That’s the premise of Lower Belvedere’s solo exhibition for the great French-American artist, Louise Bourgeois.
- Many major works on display
- Rare chance to experience her oeuvre
- Presents Bourgeois’s early oil paintings
- …in dialogue with later drawings, prints, sculptures & installations
- Runs Sept 22, 2023 – Jan 28, 2024
- See also:
(Exhibition view Louise Bourgeois. Persistent Antagonism, Österreichische Galerie Belvedere, 2023; photo by Johannes Stoll; © The Easton Foundation / Bildrecht, Wien 2023)
Aristotle once (possibly) said:
Give me a child until he is seven and I will show you the man.
We’ll forgive him his male focus given the times, but the point remains that we are (at least in part) the products of our youth.
Some claim the principle applies to artists.
Whatever influences and developments might emerge in a career, later works perhaps still carry echoes of early creations, approaches and experiences. Or not: you’ll have to ask Aristotle.
(Louise Bourgeois in the studio of her apartment at 142 East 18th Street in NYC, circa 1946; photo: © The Easton Foundation / Bildrecht, Vienna 2023 and VAGA at ARS, NY)
Lower Belvedere’s Louise Bourgeois: Persistent Antagonism exhibition pursues this theme in a solo exhibition for one of the 20th-century’s most renowned artists, created in cooperation with her estate and close associates.
Bourgeois (1911-2010) enjoys wide recognition, particularly for her sculptures and installations, such as the spider creations and the room-filling Cells produced later in her life.
The themes Bourgeoise tackled across her work drew extensively on her childhood in France (she moved to New York in 1938). She noted, for example, in a 2007 interview:
My works are portraits of a relationship, and the most important one was my mother…how these feelings for her feed into my work is both complex and mysterious. I’m still trying to understand the mechanism.
(Louise Bourgeois, UNTITLED (NO.7), 1993; photo: Christopher Burke, © The Easton Foundation / Bildrecht, Vienna)
Bourgeoise’s early paintings already featured those threads that would persist into the future. And Belvedere showcases those very works from the 1940s: their first appearance in Europe.
The exhibition places these oil paintings in dialogue with Bourgeoise’s later art. In the first gallery, for example, we see her childhood home appear in works from the late 1930s and early 1940s, but also in the Cell (Choisy) installation from the 1990s.
As such, Persistent Antagonism seeks to demonstrate and explore thematic connections through time. In the same interview quoted above, Bourgeois says:
When I see all the work that I have produced, I realised…how consistent and persistent I have been.
So we have a rare trio to experience…
(Louise Bourgeois, ROOF SONG, 1947; photo: Eeva Inkeri, © The Easton Foundation / Bildrecht, Vienna 2023; private Collection, New Jersey)
- First, a chance to encounter the widest of oeuvres: from drawings, paintings and prints to sculptures and installations.
There is a fascination to observing artistic change over decades captured in one room. And startling to discover the time gap between works sharing motifs and themes: one a 1945 painting, the other a 2005 bronze.
- Second, a chance to immerse ourselves in the creativity and expressiveness of an artist who could combine contradictions, opposites, emotions, fears, formative experiences and more in individual pieces of art.
Wandering around, you’re struck by the diversity of media, too, and can’t help but feel a wistful twinge of envy at those not content to limit their achievements and brilliance to one artistic field.
The sculptures grabbed my attention in particular, most notably the untitled 2004 aluminium piece that reminded me of Tony Cragg’s works. And positioned to feature the reflections of the 2005 Spirals series of woodcuts.
Talking positioning, 2008’s Cell (The Last Climb) installation fitted the giant marble hall of Lower Belvedere perfectly, its rusted cage against russet marble, the spiral staircase within lifting your eyes to the frescoed ceiling. I doff my hat to the curators and exhibition architect.
(Louise Bourgeois, Cell (The Last Climb), 2008; photo: Christopher Burke, © The Easton Foundation / Bildrecht, Wien 2023; Collection National Gallery of Canada, Ottawa)
- Third, a chance to enjoy the work of one of the most exalted of 20th-century artists
As regards the third point, consider that Bourgeois has had retrospectives and other solo exhibitions at such prestigious institutions as London’s Tate Modern, New York’s MoMA (her work has appeared in over 75 exhibitions there), Paris’s Centre Pompidou and St. Petersburg’s State Hermitage Museum.
Various wall quotes from Bourgeois herself guide you through the exhibition and make it easier to grasp the meaning and intention behind the art.
The combination of the artist’s own words and the carefully curated works feels like a privileged peek inside a sharp, intelligent, analytical and artistic mind.
Many exhibitions miss this degree of immersion, and my visit left me with some reflecting to do (not always healthy when you reach my age). Take your time going round…
Dates, tickets & tips
Enjoy the deep dive into the works of Bourgeois from September 22nd, 2023 to January 28th, 2024. A valid entrance ticket for Lower Belvedere includes the special exhibition(s) inside.
The Bourgeois exhibition is one of four notable exhibitions to brighten the end of the year.
Others are the Albertina’s look at Michelangelo and the subsequent depiction of the human form, the Kunsthistorisches Museum’s presentation of Raphael and Renaissance tapestries, and the Bank Austria Kunstforum Wien’s solo exhibition for Robert Motherwell.
How to get there
Just follow the travel tips for Lower Belvedere. The exhibition takes place in the main exhibition area of the lower palace itself.
Address: Rennweg 6, 1030 Vienna