The well-known international artist Loiuse Bourgeois died three years ago at the grand age of 99. Her career therefore spanned almost the entire 20th century, though she only became well-known in her 70′s. Her work is celebrated at two exhibitions in Edinburgh, at the Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art and at the Fruitmarket Gallery. Best known for her large-scale sculptures, one of which was placed outside Tate Modern for her exhibition there a few years ago, the exhibition A Woman Without Secrets at the Scottish National Gallery of Modern art shows sculptural work produced in the final years of her life and highlights the wide variety of media in which she worked to express her ideas.
As Mark Hudson in the Telegraph says “If the mainstream of 20th century art, from Matisse to Pollock and onwards, was about mostly male artists ruthlessly pursuing a single line of development, with Bourgeois, you feel, the emotion comes first and the form of the work follows. This diffuse approach made her hard to sell for much of her long career, but with the rise of feminism in the Seventies, and the search for specifically female ways of making of art, she gradually came centre stage. Sometimes the sense of anguish, based on that life-long fear of abandonment, is too obvious. The three-headed screaming form in Cell XIV (Portrait) looks almost amateurish. But overall the feel for materials and the force of the imagery keep you absorbed.”
The Fruitmarket Gallery was the first gallery in Edinburgh to show Louise Bourgeois’ work a decade ago. It is holding a complimentary exhibition I Give Everything Away of graphic works on paper. The major work is a series of 220 drawings called Insomnia which she made when she suffered from this condition through 1994 and 1995. Every drawing was kept and is shown in sequence. There are quite a variety of images drawn with red biro on whatever paper was to hand and you can sense the vitality, the sense of being being half-awake, and the creativity. The works link with her writing, but it is quite difficult to see how they reference to the three dimensional work on display at the other exhibition. Perhaps that it what makes it interesting; the fact that it is so separate and different, so informal and so personal, going back through her life. This series is complemented by large scale works, none of which were ever intended for exhibition; again they have an intimacy and a feeling that we are lifting the corner on something private. As Moira Jeffrey points out in her thoughtful and incisive review in the Scotsman, these works have echos of her youth, growing up in Antony – a suburb of Paris – where her parents ran a tapestry restoration business and where drawing therefore was part of everyday life.
If you visit one exhibition, you must visit the other.