Louise Bourgeois, The Blind Leading the Blind, vis-à-vis Barnett Newman, Uriel
The version of The Blind Leading the Blind on view at the Fondation Beyeler was executed in 1947-49. It consists of lifesize wooden wedges painted black and red, and possesses a strikingly regular irregularity: irregular in the sense that it was purposely built of similar yet not entirely identical elements, regular in that it shows a repetition of the same elements, e.g. equilateral triangles. As the geometric radicality of the piece bears an affinity with Newman's concurrent, revolutionary compositions, it is juxaposed with his Uriel of 1955. Newman's reduction of painting to plane and color finds a correspondence in Bourgeois's reduction of sculpture to a combination of a few basic three-dimensional geometric forms.
Louise Bourgeois, Untitled, vis-à-vis Paul Cézanne, Madame Cézanne
The cushions of various sizes stacked into a tower that brings Indian totem poles to mind to form Untitled, 2000, recalls the vertical wooden structures of her series personages of the 1950s. Influenced by her father's tapestry shop, Bourgeois was a life-long collector of textiles, and even converted her own clothing into works of art. Cézanne, in turn, created his paintings by translating his perceptions of color into flecks, his renowned "taches", superimposing or stacking them into a veritably built-up image. In Madame Cézanne, displayed alongside Untitled, the stacked brushstrokes turn the woman in the picture into an object built of paint -- a counterpoint and supplement to Bourgeois's vivid textile sculpture.
Louise Bourgeois, À l'infini, vis-à-vis Alberto Giacometti, L'homme qui marche
Bourgeois unfolded her graphic imagination by means of paint, pencil and paper applications on fourteen large-format etchings. Like nearly all of the artist's works, À l'infini is a kind of self-portrait consisting of emotions become imagery or fragments from the unconscious mind become form. The subject of this very poetical series, the principle underlying human life, in which no two encounters ever repeat themselves, is reflected in the intersecting lines in À l'infini. These recall Giacometti's sculptures and his lifelong efforts to represent the complexity of motion by treating it as a sequence of standstills, and his attempts to capture the essential reality of a person through painstakingly reworked portraits. This has something very possessive about it, and is related to Bourgeois's approach.
The Insomnia Drawings
The insomnia from which she suffered throughout her life was a state Bourgeois gradually accepted. It became highly important for her creative process. Between November 1994 and May 1995, she collected all of the sheets she had filled with drawings and notes during the nighttime hours, creating a 220-part work shown under the title Insomnia Drawings. This series provides insight into the artist's thinking and ever-new attempts to lend form to her unconscious promptings. A striking feature of the series is the way in which the borderline between writing and drawing, notation and visual representation, appears to be overcome.
Perhaps the most compelling representations of aspects of her self are Bourgeois's legendary Cells, the largest of which, Passage Dangereux, 1997, is on view on the souterrain floor of the museum. Reflecting her invariable focus on feelings and emotions, the many objects in Dangerous Passage are symbols of conscious and subconscious experiences from the artist's childhood and puberty -- whose magic and drama find visual form on the stage of an architecture created to house, and hence to overcome them.
The Waiting Hours
One of the last series of works to which Bourgeois devoted herself comprised images sewn from the material of dresses she had worn in the course of her life. From her personal memories of situations she experienced in certain dresses she created very personal history pictures. In the last years of her life, the artist concerned herself intensely with time. For her, The Waiting Hours were above all the hours of night when she lay awake and envisioned new works of art.
Bourgeois's equally fascinating and threatening monumental bronze sculpture of a spider entitled Maman (927.1 x 891.5 x 1023.6 cm) is a key work for an understanding of her art. On the one hand, it is an homage to her mother, who worked in Paris as a restorer of tapestries, and thus, like a spider, continually wove and renewed textile webs. On the other hand, Bourgeois viewed the spider as a universal symbol of the endless story of life, whose principle is eternal renewal. This is as consoling as it is threatening, for there is no possibility of escaping this endless cycle. Accordingly Bourgeois's Maman represents a compelling monument to the existence of change.
Following memorable presentations in and in front of the Tate Modern, London (2000-07), in the Jardin des Tuileries in Paris (2007-08), the Guggenheim Museum, Bilbao (from 2001) and the State Hermitage Museum in St. Petersburg (2001), Maman will be on view in Switzerland for the first time. The installation of the sculpture it itself an impressive process, and at every venue where it was shown it became a public favorite that drew crowds of viewers.