Louise Bourgeois, the ‘grand old lady’ of contemporary art, achieved artistic renown only at an advanced age. It was not until she was seventy-one that she was accorded a major retrospective at the Museum of Modern Art in New York. By 2007, when the Tate Modern and the Centre Pompidou organized another retrospective of Bourgeois’s work, she was recognised as one of the most important artists in the world. Her work sits firmly in the Surrealist tradition but has a more universal quality, since she sought inspiration in her own childhood and later experiences rather than in the Freudian theories so popular among the Surrealists. Through her Cells, sculpture (including various fabric dolls), drawings and celebrated spiders, Bourgeois always sought to express the pain of human relationships. Louise Bourgeois died on 29 May this year and her studio was closely involved in the preparations for this exhibition.
Hans Bellmer was born in Katowice (now Poland) but moved to Berlin in 1922. His initial intention was to study engineering there but he quickly abandoned this in favour of an artistic career. At the age of thirty he produced his first doll, made of broomsticks, tubes, plaster and papier-mâché, which he then photographed in many different ways. The Surrealists in Paris were immediately enthusiastic about his photographs and published them in their journal, Minotaure. In 1935 Bellmer created a second doll, this time with ball joints which allowed the parts of its body to be assembled in very many different ways. The photographs he staged were this time far more dramatic, suggesting perverse sexual practices although still attractive in their own way. The pictures stand in sharp contrast to the ideal of the strong, healthy, fertile female body extolled by the Nazi propaganda of the period. Bellmer’s doll was a protest against the National Socialist regime, of which his own father was a fervent supporter.
This is an exhibition of international stature, being held in close cooperation with the Nationalgalerie Berlin – Sammlung Scharf-Gerstenberg – Staatliche Museen zu Berlin. The expanded version to be staged at the Gemeentemuseum Den Haag will include a multitude of extra items on loan from private collections and from the Louise Bourgeois Studio. In addition, one of Bourgeois’ celebrated spiders will adorn the museum pond for the duration of the exhibition.
The exhibition will be accompanied by a lavishly illustrated catalogue containing contributions from eminent figures such as Elfriede Jelinek and Henry Miller (Ludion, price € 34.95 from the museum shop, € 39.95 elsewhere).
Hans Bellmer – Louise Bourgeois Double Sexus has been made possible by financial support from various quarters, most notably the Turing Foundation and the Mondriaan Stichting.