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François-Auguste-René Rodin – Father of Modern Sculpture

In front of the model, I work with the same desire to copy the truth as if I were making a portrait; I do not correct nature, I incorporate myself into her; she leads me.
 
I can work only from a model. The sign of the human form fortifies and nourishes me.

François-Auguste-René Rodin’s story recalls the archetypical struggle of the modern artist.

He was born on November 12, 1840 in a poor area of Paris’s fifth arrondissement to Jean-Baptiste Rodin, an office clerk in the local police station and his second wife, Marie Cheffer.

Early Life

In 1854, he decided to pursue a career in the arts, attending the Ecole Speciale de Dessin et de Mathematiques which trained boys in the decorative arts.

Due to poor vision, Rodin was greatly distressed at a young age. Unaware of his imperfect eyesight, (he was nearsighted) a dejected Rodin found comfort in drawing, which allowed him to clearly see his progress as he practiced on drawing paper.

By age 14, Rodin had developed obvious skills as artist, and soon began taking formal art courses. While completing his studies, the aspiring young artist began to doubt himself, receiving little validation or encouragement from his instructors and fellow students.

After three years of studying sculpture and drawing, he applied to attend the prestigious Ecole des Beaux-Arts. He was gravely disappointed when the school denied him admission.

While he passed the drawing competition, he failed three times in the sculpture competition; his pursuit of naturalism did not suit the school’s academic style.

After the third rejection, Rodin resigned himself, at the age of 19, to take job in plaster workshops to create architectural ornaments.

His career in the decorative arts working on public monuments provided him with a meager living for the next 20 years.

He continued to make sculptures, and by the mid-1860s he had completed what he would later describe as his first major work ‘’Mask of the Man With the Broken Nose’’ (1863-64).

The piece was rejected twice by the Paris Salon due to the realism of the portrait, which departed from classic notions of beauty and featured the face of a local handyman.

In 1866, Rodin met Rose Beuret, and she remained his lifetime companion despite his numerous affairs.

Around this time, Rodin found better fortune-filling commissions in the workshop of Albert-Ernest Carrier-Belleuse, a commercial sculptor, but the steady work and increased income was disrupted by the Franco-Prussian War in 1870.

A fateful trip to Italy in 1875, with an eye on Michelangelo’s work further stirred Rodin’s inner artist, enlightening him to new kinds of possibilities, he returned to Paris inspired to create and design.

The Age of Bronze

In 1876, Rodin completed his piece ‘’The Vanquished’’, which he called ‘’The Age of Bronze’’, a life-size sculpture of a nude man clenching both of his fists, with his right hand hanging over his head.

A young officer was the model for this sculpture, which provided the first great ‘success de scandale’ of Rodin’s career. The composition and rough surface of the figure were unconventional by academic standards.

The subject also remained obscure- the title only vaguely suggesting classical art- and prompted confusion among critics; rather than clothe his image of man in respected symbolism, Rodin had presented a common man, naked.

The Salon accepted the work, but doubts were raised about its authenticity and many accused him of casting directly from the model’s body; the sculpture appeared so realistic that it was directly modeled from the body of the model.

The allegations were a testament to Rodin’s technical skills, though the suggestion that he had somehow cheated heartily offended the sculptor, who was able to disprove the claim with photographs of his model.

However, the work was validated when it was purchased by Under-Secretary of the Ministry of Fine Arts, Edmond Turquet. Turquet would then commission Rodin to create a monumental bronze doorway for a planned museum of the decorative arts.

The Gates of Hell

As Rodin entered his 40s in the fallowing decade, he was able to further establish his distinct artistic style with an acclaimed, but sometimes controversial list of works, eschewing academic formality for a vital suppleness of form.

In 1880, Rodin began working on ‘’The Gates of Hell’’ an intricate monument partly inspired by Dante’s Divine Comedy and Charles Boudelaire’d Les Fleurs du Mal.

Rodin laboured on this project for over twenty years.

It is believed that Rodin chose to draw on Dante’s Inferno for the subject matter. The monument consisted of various sculpted figures, including the iconic ‘Thinker’(1880), ‘The Three Shades’(1886), ‘The Old Courtesan’(1887), and the posthumously discovered ‘Man with Serpent’(1887).
 
The Thinker is the most famous example.

Deriving from a figure at the top of the sculpture who gazes with melancholy over the hellish scenes bellow him, he represents Dante the author of the Divine Comedy; the figure also represents modern, secular man, strong in mind and body, but lonely and doubtful in the position he has created for himself as master of his own universe.

The Gates of Hell was a deliberate attempt to rival Lorenzo Ghiberti’s famous bronze doors for the Baptistery of Florence Cathedral, the Gates of Paradise (1425-52), the competition for which is often said to have initiated the Renaissance.

Rodin initially planned to split the composition into a series of panels, just as Ghiberti had done, but after looking at images of Michelangelo’s Last Judgment (1534-41), he opted for a more fluid arrangement of figures.

Although Rodin wished to exhibit the completed ‘Gates’ by the end of the decade, the project proved to be more time-consuming than originally anticipated and remained uncompleted.

The Kiss

The years during which Rodin worked on The Gates of Hell coincided with his relationship with Camille Claudel, a young sculptor who joined his studio as an assistant in 1884.

It proved a stormy romance beset by numerous quarrels, but it persisted until Camille’s madness brought it to a finish in 1898. During the years of passion, Rodin made several erotic sculptures of loving couples.
 
The most sensuous of these groups was the Kiss (1884).

The critics gave the sculpture the title, but Rodin originally called it Paolo and Francesca, after the story in Dante’s Divine Comedy about a young noblewoman who falls in love with her husband’s brother.
 
In the story, the couple is killed by the jealous husband, but Rodin focused instead in their loving embrace.

This erotic sculpture was made during the early years of Rodin’s relationship with Madame Claudel.

The Burghers of Calais

By 1899 Rodin had a large studio with several assistants. His work continued to elicit scandal and trouble. ‘The Burghers of Calais’’ a piece from 1889, is a public monument made of bronze portraying a moment during the Hundred Years’ War between France and England in 1347.

The piece includes six human statues, and depicts a war account during which six French citizens from Calais were ordered by monarch Edward III of England to abandon their home and surrender themselves—barefoot and bareheaded, wearing ropes around their necks and holding the keys to the town and the caste in their hands— to the king who was to order their execution thereafter.

‘The Burgers of Calais’ is a portrayal of the moment that the citizens exited the town; the group was later spared death due to the request of Queen Philippa.

The piece was nearly refused for its depiction of the city’s heroes as dejected victims. The figures are arranged all on one level, rejecting the pyramid composition typical of figure groups at the time.

The men look downtrodden, but determined. They are dressed in rags, and their hands and feet are expressively enlarged.

However, their awkward appearance did not suggest the heroic dimension that the town had envisioned, and the sculpture was accepted with some hesitation and compromise.

Monument to Balzac

Similarly, in 1881, Rodin was commissioned by the Society of Man of Letters to create a memorial for the poet Honore Balzac. Instead of taking 18 months to complete the work, Rodin became infatuated with the topic, and completed the commission in 7 years.

Rodin spent years reading Balzac’s poems, finding pictures of him and models who bore a resemblance to the heavy-set man.

Finally, he placed the proud head on top of a body swathed in a huge, shapeless robe and made a mound-like protrusion at his crotch as a reference to his virility.

The commission was ultimately rejected, and after much controversy Rodin decided to keep the sculpture for himself.

After the sculpture of Balzac, Rodin’s pace slowed down, but he had achieved financial success.

Several exhibitions around the turn of the century brought him worldwide renown; exhibitions in Belgium and Holland in 1899, his first retrospective in Paris in 1990, subsequent shows in Prague, Germany and New York.

Unbridled Sentimental Inventiveness

Around 1900, there was a pressing desire to find a new formal approach in sculpture.

The theories of the German sculptor Lehmbruck were symptomatic from this point of view. In his writings, he particularly condemned ‘unbridled sentimental inventiveness’, making explicit references to Rodin’s art.

In 1908, Rodin moved to the now-famous Hotel Biron, the most beautiful 18th– century Parisian mansions, which became his new studio and home of his affair with the Marquise and later Duchess, Claire de Choiseul.

She exercised great control over his life and the sale of his work for seven years, until she was accused of stealing a box of drawings.

Because of her scheming and that of other women around Rodin, friends encouraged him to marry Rose Beuret in January 1917. Rose died two weeks after the wedding, and Rodin passed away on November, 17 of that same year in Meudon, France.

Hotel Biron at Meudon

Before his death he bequeathed all of his sculptures, drawings and archives to the state of France to create a museum in the Hotel Biron at Meudon.

The Museum was opened in 1919; after several years of reconstruction, the museum was reopened in 2015 on November, 12, Rodin’s birthday.

By the time of his death, Rodin was linked to Michelangelo. His reputation as the father of modern sculpture remains unchanged; his many intimate drawings of his models have altered the nature of the traditional respect paid to this eminent artist.

Henri Matisse was influenced by the spontaneity of his drawings, while Cubists and Futurists were fascinated by his sense of motion and the fragmentation of his human forms.

While Rodin’s reputation declined in the decades following his death, his rebellion against academic standards and his vivid expression of the human form planted the seed for a new French sculpture.

To the generation of sculptors coming forward in the 1890s, faced with the conventions of Academic art and the death throes of Realism, Rodin seemed to be the one who had breathed new life into their art form.

The early works of Joseph Bernard, Brancusi, Picasso, Gaudier-Brzeska and Zadkine, all reflect Rodin’s undeniable influence.

We’ll leave you with this video documentary about Rodin.


 

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Arte Povera – The Movement, The Message

The birth of an artistic movement is preceded by a mysterious evolution that is made up of a set of ideas that are refined and expressed by actions and works.

Arte Povera, one of the most influential avant-garde movements, emerged in Europe in the 1960s. In its general sense Arte Povera, an Italian term meaning impoverished, poor art, allegedly derived from the poor theatre of the Polish film director Jerzy Grotowski.

More specifically, it refers to a group of avant-garde painters and sculptors based in Genoa, Turin, Milan and Rome from the mid-1960s onwards who produced a provocative fusion of Assemblage, Minimalism, Conceptual Art and Performance Art.

The movement grouped the work of Italian artists whose most distinctly recognizable trait was their use of ’found objects’ including simple, commonplace materials, such as soil, bits of wood, clothing, rocks, rope, paper.

While avoiding a signature style and promoting diversity as a positive value, these artists produced works mainly consisting of photography, sculptures and installations.

In addition, the diversity of the creations of these artists made this movement recognize that no one’s method sustains all projects, and for this reason, an unrestrained creativity formed the common ground between Arte Povera artists.

Arte Povera

In 1967, the art critic and curator, Germano Celant coined the name ‘Arte Povera’ and curated the movement’s first exhibition which was staged at Galleria La Bertesca in Genoa.

The same year, he published a manifesto for the movement: Arte Povera: Notes for a Gerilla War. He proposed a guerilla warfare art against the rich world that he considered to be represented by certain contemporary trends such as Nouveau realism.

Gradually, he would abandon this political dimension in order to transform this movement in some kind of conceptual-minimal art.

In the same manifesto he also wrote about ‘a desire to escape the bounds of a social system that rewards conformity and limits experience, and argued that this system forces artists into producing bourgeois objects for an art market that requires the stability of the assembly line’.

With this declaration, Celant associated the Italians (and himself) with a new movement in art and put forth definition of Arte Povera. These and other pioneering texts and shows created a collective identity for Arte Povera, and promoted it as a revolutionary genre, liberated from convention and the market place.

Raw and Real

Arte Povera artists employed a vast array of raw materials, such as rags, coal, hessian sacks, wood , soil, seeds and vegetables, as well as manufactured items, glass and metal.

These materials were framed, hung or applied to walls, metal sheets or various surfaces. Artists made no attempt to change the natural colors of the materials.

Their work was a reaction against the modernist abstract painting that had dominated European art in the 1950s. In addition, the group rejected American Minimalism, particularly, what they perceived as its enthusiasm for technology and its scientific rationalism.

By contrast, they presented absurd and comical juxtapositions, often of the old and the new, or the highly processed and the pre-industrial. They conjured a world of myth whose mysteries could not be explained in an easy way.

Although Arte Povera is most notable for its use of found object and everyday materials, materials which contrasted with the apparently industrial sensibility of American Minimal Art, the movement employed subversive avant-garde tactics – performance and installations- unconventional approaches to sculpture.

In order to reconnect art with life, the Italian Arte Povera strove to evoke an individual response in each of their art pieces, stressing an interaction between object and viewer that was purely original.

Germano Celant and the Arte Povera Artists

Germano Celant was a key figure in the formation and success of Arte Povera, and in this respect Arte Povera is typical of avant-garde groups that have been given momentum and cohesion by a single voice.

Celant’s interpretations of the artists associated with the movement have remained prominent and important, and he stressed the Italians’ interest in individual subjectivity.

For instance, Michelangelo Pistoletto’s work often dealt with relationships. His early mirror works, which confronted image and self, explored concepts of identity.

His The Minis Objects series was developed around the idea of art that was only completed through the addition of human interaction. In the piece, Structure for Talking While Standing / Minus Objects (1965-66) it can be seen how the structure connects to the viewer, allowing for a place to rest the arms and feet.

Also, a dialogue was a concern to the artist; Celant once described his related work, the simple metal construction ‘Structure for Standing While Talking’, from 1965-66, as a medium to create a personal dialogue between art and viewer, free from any preconceived notion.

Giovani Anselmo’s early work relied on human interaction to fully experience the art, which was loosely constructed in order to react to the slightest touch. He worked as graphic designer and began to experiment with the arts in his free time.

His Untitled (1968), sometimes referred to as Eating Structure, comprises a small block of granite attached to a larger, plinth-like block by means of a head of lettuce and a length of wire.

If the lettuce is allowed to dry out, the smaller block will fall, therefore, the sculpture has to be ‘’fed’’ with lettuce to maintain its structure.

Its concern with gravity and balance echoes some of the interests of American Post-Minimal Art through its comic tone, and its use of such mundane materials, is typical of Arte Povera’s evocation of rural and poor life.

Pino Pascali’s 32 Square Meters of Sea, from 1967, brings together the artificial and natural. Containers hold quantities of dyed water that replicate the variegated tints of the ocean, alluding to the effects of light and motion.

The industrial materials and geometric shapes used to produce the sculpture echo American Minimalist sculpture, through artist’s use of a simple natural materials, the water in this case, betrays its origins in the concerns of Arte Povera.

Although Piero Manzoni was not considered a true member of the Arte Povera group, his work reflects the principles of the movement,

His Artist’s Shit, no.4, from 1961, supposedly containing 30 grams of excrement, reprises such famous avant-garde provocations as Marcel Duchamp’s presentation of a urinal as a work of art (Fountain, 1917).

Ninety cans were produced, labeled and canned in an identical manner, mocking the practices of mass production and consumption, satirizing the reverence usually accorded to artist’s work.

Celant’s most dramatic pronouncement, and probably reflected his hopes for the implications of Art Povera was saved for the igloos of Mario Merz.

He said that he performed a constant sacrifice of the banal, everyday object, as though it were a newfound Christ. Having found his nail, Merz became the system’s philistine and crucified the world.

Mario Merz, the oldest of the Arte Povera artists, was a painter in an Abstract Expressionist style, but with the new movement he was given the opportunity to start his career anew.

In the Giap’s Igloo (1968) the first of his signature igloos, Merz uses a phrase, taken from a Vietnamese military general: ‘Se il nemico si concentra perde terreno se il disperde perde forza’/ If the enemy masses his forces, he loses ground; if he scatters, he loses strength.

Merz’s igloos provide a focus for his preoccupation with the necessities of life- food, shelter, warmth-though, as here, they contain neon tubes that suggest more modern and sophisticated experiences, such as advertising and consumption.

Arte Povera and Radicalism

Arte Povera was closely linked to the political radicalism emerging across Europe, which eventually culminated in the street protests of 1968. In order to understand better the real purpose of such movement, one must analyses the cultural context of Italy in the 1950s and 1960s.

The country was going to a period of industrialization as the Miracolo Italiano/ the Italian miracle. The consumerism was finding its way into Italian society and advanced technologies were rapidly being introduced.

The optimism for this progressive wave was then suddenly interrupted in the mid 1960s when the economy recession set in.

Workers and students were continuously protesting in all Europe and America and this brought other social and cultural movements and beliefs such as a hippie counter-culture and a new sexual liberation.

In that context, Arte Povera was no longer referring to the use of ‘poor’ materials, nor to a critique of a consumer society, but to the concept of ‘impoverishing’ each person’s experience of life freeing oneself from layers of ideologies and preconceptions.

Thus, the main principles of Arte Povera were few, but very clear: a work of art is attitude transformed into form, thanks to a wide range of materials; the art should be a way of achieving truth and authenticity; any medium, location or technique can be used since everything can potentially become a work of art; finally it should engage with social concerns and also reject the ideology of a consumer society.

A Brief Unity

Despite growing popularity the Arte Povera movement dissolved in the mid 1970s as the individual styles of the Italian artists continued to grow in different directions following their own paths. However, their brief unity had already made its mark on the history of art.

Germano Celent succeeded in carving out a place for Art Povera within the neo-avant-garde.

By illustrating a relationship to Italian classicism, Futurism and to more contemporary styles such as Land Art, he lent the movement a place in what could be seen as a living tradition.

Over forty years later, the works of the Arte Povera are more alive than ever since they still attract the interest of many since their meaning is still relevant.

In the case of Pop Art, to stay contemporary, artworks seem to be inevitably aged, such as the Worhol’s paintings, particularly those of the myths of the 60s like Marilyn Monroe and the Beatles, that now seem to be a piece of history.

On the contrary, Arte Povera may just be one of the few things of the Twenty Century that managed to survive until now. The reason might be the fact that Arte Povera is not just an avant-garde movement, but it is something complete in itself.

In addition, it continues to be central to the idea of art as an experience, prior the knowledge and this might well be the reason why ordinary people who are not so much interested in art, can also feel the simplistic experience of this movement.

 

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Yugoslav Monuments – An Essay on Art and the Rhetoric of Power

A monument is namely a public phenomenon; the public is the commission which reasoned it and which it is dedicated. The physical open space in which a monument exists is technically the only possible medium of the socio-psychological sphere which the monument is intended for: the spiritual reality of its milieu.
 
Publicness is the monument’s true nature; this is where the monument grows, stands or fails: in publicness lies all the magnificence or nothingness of the monument. If it lacks this public dimension, the monument is just a mass, sometimes a good sculpture or something else but always a misunderstanding that disappears with the monument’s removal
.

Eugen Frankovic, The Publicness of Monuments

A French historian Pierre Nora writes that memory attaches itself to sites. Monuments and memorials are indeed such sites. When we try to rewrite today the art history of Yugoslav sites of remembrance, we are facing a depressing fact: such a history has actually never been written.
 
The absence of valuable art historical and theoretical texts about political and cultural monuments erected on former Yugoslav territories does not mirror the absence of monuments.

Both the first (1918-1941) and the second Yugoslav state (1945-1991/1992) manifested a real greed for commemorations and genuine passion for spatialization of collective memories. Any such project, however, necessitated the implementation of a particular politics of remembrance and these politics are depended on what is imagined as ‘collective identity’ of a community, a nation, or a state.
 
American historian John R.Gillis stresses that both memories and identities are often attributed the status of unchangeable ‘material objects’.

He dismantles this conception, states that we need to be reminded that memories and identities are not fixed things, but representations or constructions of reality, subjective rather than objective phenomena. Therefore, we are constantly revising our memories to suit our current identities.

Public monuments, both those dedicated to political figures and men of culture, are instrumental in these revisions: those which do not suit to ‘’new identities’’ must be removed in order to make place for new monuments which now spatialize newly constructed identities.

A discourse about political memorials, or any other public monument, we can establish today, radically differs from the usual comprehension of monuments traditionally discredited as “art on command” or “art on commission’”. As artworks commissioned by public agency – a national community, a veteran organization or even a state, monuments are believed to be in ‘service of’ a given power, which they should ‘illustrate’.

However, when examining monuments as visual representations, we (should) understand the monument as the site in which power becomes constituted. American art historian David Summers argued that ‘’substitutive images’’ (the representation of rulers) and the space in which they are used, are ipso facto realization of power, not expression of power, but actual form taken by power in one or another place and time.
 
Monuments, like other types of visual representations we encounter in the public sphere, such as posters, documentary and feature films, postage stamps and press photographs, play, thus, a constitutive and nor merely a reflexive, after-the-fact-role.

A discourse on memorial sites in two Yugoslav states is not unique. It does not differ much from other countries: since the least the French Revolution, the treatment of public monuments point to the fact that image-making is as old as image-breaking.
 
Making and breaking are also characteristic of the Yugoslav memorial productions, whereby it should not be forgotten that both Yugoslav states and many of the post-Yugoslav ones were founded after wars.

The Kingdom of Serbs, Croats and Slovenians known as the ‘’ three-name nation’’ (troimeni narod) was founded in 1918 after the First World War. Newly built monuments were meant to establish public memory of war heroism and suffering, but this memory, alas, could be instituted only in some parts of the freshly reunited state, actually composed of war winners and war losers.
 
When this state became a ‘one-name nation’ (jednoimeni narod) and was accordingly renamed the Kingdom of Yugoslavia (1924-41), it started to promote the ideology of unitary Yugoslavism, which was constituted not only by dictatorship but also via monuments to Yugoslav kings of Sebian Karadjordjevic dynasty: Peter I ‘’the Liberator’’ (died at 1921) and Aleksandar ‘’the Great Unifier’’( assassinated in 1934).

Between 1923 and 1940, some 215 monuments or memorial marks dedicated to the deceased rulers had been erected all over the Yugoslav kingdom. None of these monuments survived, but the sculptors who designed them ( Ivan Mestrovic, Lojze Dolinar, Frano Krsinic, Antun Augustincic and Sreten Stojanovic) did.
 
All of them would again become engaged in the production of memorials in ‘new’ Yugoslavia.

 

The Second Yuguslav State

The second Yugoslav state, proclaimed on 29, November 1943, was also a state born of war. After 1945, the Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia indulged yet again in a statue-mania, which now spatialized the memory of a just war and victory over fascism.
 
Gained by transnational and multi-ethnic partisans’ forces, it fostered ‘’brotherhood and unity’’ of all Yugoslav people/nations. Thus emerged new memorial sites populated with numberless monuments which, as any such public objects in the world, replayed a collective memory that, since 1945, became institutionalized as ‘their’ history: this was the history of the winners, and winners are keen on selective memories.
 
In spatializing this memory-as-history, Yugoslav monuments exploited various regimes of representation.

Around 1952-55, the battle between Socialist (mainly academic) Realism and modernism in Socialist Yugoslavia ended with the victory of modernism. Hence, as of the 1960s, the major Yugoslav memorials commemorating ‘’fallen soldiers’’ and ‘’victims of fascism’’ obtained abstract, i.e, modernist shapes; however, parallel to these productions initiated and founded by the Association of Veterans of the People’s Liberation War (Savez Boraca Narodnooslobodilackog rata), monuments based on figurative representation continued to be built all over Yugoslavia till the late 1980s, and often supported by local veterans organizations.
 
Even if those monuments based on iconic or realistic representations of human bodies (as a rule male bodies) may appear to offer an easier identification and reception by ‘’people’’ , abstractly shaped memorials continue to connote the same ideology: a lack of humanism (understood as the absence of bodily representations) brought about the presence of huge abstract sculptures called organic bodies ( as a rule based on phallic shapes such as obelisks, cylinders, erected forms) which connoted again a rhetoric of power, and last but not least –militarism.

A thematic shift occurred in the late 1960s and early 1970s. Whereas ‘’revolutionary sculptures’’ produced till then restaged the war victory and defeat of fascism, later modernist memorial productions, built on the ‘’sites of the Revolution’’ tended to incept the memory of war as socialist revolution: this happened some thirty years after the war, when memories of it started to fade and meant little to younger generations.
 
In additions, memorial complexes, designed by artists and/or architects such as Bogdan Bogdanovic, Dusan Dzamonja, Miodrag Zivkovic, and erected on the natural sites where partisan’s victories took place, imply yet another aspect: they suggest revolution to be a natural process.
 
Therefore, one should abandon a traditional dualism between representational/ figurative and non-representational/abstract procedures. Instead, one should ask in which ways monuments actively performed a spatialization of Communist ideology, whereby the division between iconic and non-iconic representation hardly plays a role.

Since the rise of nationalist ideologies in Yugoslavia of the late 1980s, the antifascist tradition became exposed to collective amnesia, and in most, if not all, post-Yugoslav states it is almost completely negated, if not totally erased.
 
The devastation and destruction of Yugoslav ‘communist’ monuments occurred not only during the Yugoslav wars of the 1990s, but also later. New monuments erected, or re-erected, in post-Yugoslav sovereign states commemorate heroes and victims of war (1991-1999), but not only them.
 
Each nation-state built its own monuments which now constitute nationalist ideology viewed through the eyes of victimization and national suffering under ‘’foreign power’’ (as a rule neighboring nation/state), under ‘’communists’’ and even under the international community.

Memories re-enacted in political monuments and memorials put up on Yugoslav territories in the twentieth century are generally memories of violence and, linked to it, militarism. However, it would be historically wrong to assume that representation of and reference to violence is specific for monuments erected in bellicose and brutal Balkan region.
 
In addition, as in other parts of the world, monuments themselves are as often as not exposed to violence.

American art historian W.J.T. Mitchell, in his article The Violence of Public Art, differentiates two types of violence directed against monuments and other public works of art. One is ‘’the official’’ violence of police, juridical or legislative power, as was the case of the post-1989 removal of the ‘’Communist Pantheon’’, which was in the main based on parliamentary decisions.
 
The other is ‘’unofficial’’ violence performed by angry masses. He asked several questions: Is public art inherently violent, or is it a provocation to violence? Is violence built into the monument in its own very conception?
 
Is violence simply an accident that befalls some monuments, a matter of the fortunes of history? In this context, he reminds us that monumental productions are generally dedicated to one theme: Much of the world’s public art-memorials, monuments, triumphal arches, obelisks, columns, and statues-has a rather direct reference to violence in the form of war or conquest.
 
From Ozymandias to Caesar to Napoleon and Hitler, public art served as a kind of monumentalizing of violence, and never more powerfully than when it pre
sents the conqueror as a man of peace, imposing a Napoleonic code or a Pax Romana on the world.

Hungarian art historian, Katalin Sinkó, who discusses the removal of the monuments undertaken by the Communist regime in her native country, stresses probably the most significant aspect of the monuments’ disfigurement: The destruction of statues as a ritual act proves significant only in an environment which understands and acknowledges the meaning of such symbolic acts.
 
Accordingly, in the early days of the Yugoslav Kingdom, all signs of Austro-Hungarian monarchy were removed; those monuments to the Karadjordjevic dynasty which did not fall under occupying forces in the Second World War were promptly defaced after the 1945 by the communist authorities; after the violent disintegration of Yugoslavia, the emerging nation-states started to acquire their new identity by revising (nationalist) memories, engaging thus in a ‘’ memory work’’ which is as Gills points out, like any other kind of physical labor , embedded in complex class, gender and power relations that determine what is remembered/ or forgotten , by whom, and for what end.

The main question is still here: Are there elements of reconciliation in today’s culture of monuments in the Western Balkan? Whereas it appears somehow logical to built Memorial of the Murdered Jews of Europe, 2006, in Berlin, the question is where it would be ‘’logical’’ to erect a memorial to the victims in Srebrenica.
 
In Belgrade, of course. But, who would (date to) built it there? Monuments, cannot offer reconciliation, but people, sometimes can.. In a public performance held in Sarajevo 1998, the Croatian artist Slaven Tolj drank for some 20 minutes Bosnian sljivovica and Croatian grappa, mixing them.
 
The subtitle of his performance read: ‘’Waiting for Willy Brandt’’.

We keep waiting…

SYMBOLIC SIGNIFICANCE OF MONUMENTS IN BOSNIA AND HERZEGOVINA

Following the Second World War and the victorious National Liberation War over fascism, the myth of both revolutionary justice and the true will of the Communist Party of Yugoslavia to determine the course of history have been legitimized.

The victory also underlined the prospects of small nations, such as South Slavs, to decide their own future, to create a state and to be triumphant over a much stronger enemy. The victory, thus reconciled two myths: the myth of uprising and the myth of revolution.
 
The National Liberation War signified a conquest over invaders, and therefore, the victory substantiated the ability of South Slavs to constitute a state rooted in principles of ‘’ brotherhood and unity ‘’. The war also signified the effort to create a new society and a new class consciousness.
 
For that very reason, socialist realist art in former Yugoslavia, through ‘’ sacral places’’ such as monuments, sought to create the myth that would become underline the idea of revolution, the idea of creating a new man.
 
The monuments were used mostly commemorated fallen soldiers. They were also used to articulate a spirit of optimism and collective will directed towards a utopian classless society. The spirit of the deceased ought to inspire both those who have survived the war and new post-war generations to further pursue revolutionary accomplishments in peace.

The common practice was to build monuments dedicated to national heroes-such as a monument to the boy –fighter Bosko Buha who was portrayed standing over an open book, holding a gun in one hand, and a bomb in the other.
 
Totalitarian regimes often insist on youth mobilization as it stands for a new perspective. The official ideology, thus, particularly focused on the heroic death of a minor in order to establish the myth of a new generation that through death and suffering is building a new tomorrow.
 
The bomb in his hand and the rifle on his shoulder embody the young fighter’s will to create a new future in which radical fighting against the enemy symbolizes the realization of an utopian truth and universal justice for all South Slavic people.
 
The open book over which he stands symbolizes awareness of collective solidarity and a new future built through labor, combat and knowledge. The monument was set up at the Jabuka Mountain close to Prijepolje in western Serbia, the place where he was killed.
 
The spirit of the place and the worship of fallen fighters represent one of the most distinct rituals among Balkan nations: the cult of the ancestor. It denotes a static timeless past for which the living must repay the dead, whereas the fallen fighter symbolizes a new future and a new utopian reality which the survivors need to build.

Close to the monument of Bosko Buha stands another one commemorating soldiers who fell during First World War I. in the 1900s, Serbian nationalists, with the intention of deconstructing and devaluating the communist myth of the fighter, built right next to it a monument dedicated to Serbian soldiers who were sympathetic to fascist forces and killed by Partisans.
 
This highlights a grotesque union of Balkan ideologies of the 20
th century that aimed to attain legitimacy through blood and sacrifice. Despite seeming grossly incompatible, they held one common trait: a symbolic representation of the eternal spirit of ‘’our fallen fighters’’ through monuments which regenerate ‘’ political truth and justice’’.
 
Here, not only different ideologies but also borders of newly created states succeeding Yugoslavia meet: Serbia, Bosnia and Herzegovina and Montenegro. Consequently, the political body and the ‘’ brotherhood and unity’’ between the people and the South Slavic state community, all of which Bosko Buha had fought and died for, has fallen apart.
 
Even though his sculpture has fortunately not been torn down, it has been stripped of its symbolic meaning; a political assassination took place!

In the context of Bosnia and Herzegovina, the symbolical presentation of the National Liberation War had a great significance because its main battles and offensives were fought on the country’s territory: also, in 1943, the new Yugoslavia was established in the second session of the Anti-Fascist Council of People’s Liberation of Yugoslavia (AVNOJ) in the northern Bosnia town of Jajce.
 
The multiethnic life in Bosnia and Herzegovina alone seemed to reflect a ‘’miniaturized Yugoslavia’’, even the geographic centre of Yugoslavia, marked by a stone sculpture, was located near Sarajevo and Zenica cities.

In the late 1980s and 1990s, rising ethno-nationalistic fantasies have focused on ‘’under-mining communism’’. The reason why people massively adopted these ethno-nationalistic fantasies was primarily the political emptiness, a vacuum created by the fall of communism.
 
In this period, monuments that embodied communist tradition were often demolished. This destruction in itself had a double meaning: it sought to erase the communist past in order to make room for new identities and, at the same time, it marked the return to a pure ‘’ancient tradition’’.

However, while condemning communism as a utopian construction, nationalists turned towards an even greater illusion: a utopia that is no longer bound to the future but to the past. Thus the myth of creating a utopian future during communism has been replaced with the ethno-nationalistic myth of returning to the past.

Precisely because of the Bosnia and Herzegovina, as a representation of a ‘’miniature Yugoslavia’’, the consequences following the collapse of the social system and the Yugoslav idea of ‘’brotherhood and unity’’ were more tragic there.
 
One of the reasons why the war between the ‘fraternal’ nations was so blood-soaked is that the community began to fall apart internally, and the ideology which people believed in socialism with a human face-was abandoned.
 
This inner decay gave rise to ethno-nationalistic fantasies and identities that were based on exclusion and the denunciation of once ‘fraternal’ nations as hostile, criminal ones. Neighboring nations started to disown their own past and began finding an enemy within themselves.
 
Thus ‘brotherhood and unity’ between fraternal national turned into fratricide: the murder of the brother.

In this inextricable web of transition processes during 1990s, monuments and citizens in Bosnia and Herzegovina seemed to share a common fate: monuments were demolished and, at the same time, citizens were killed and imprisoned in concentration camps.
 
The demolition of monuments signified the collapse of the old political community while the emergence of new monuments pointed to the creation of a new political imagination and a new identity. Thus the transition from socialism to ethno-nationalism was reflected in the symbolic power of monuments and it was also reproduced in them.

In the winds of war that swept over Bosnia in the 1900s, not only were communist monuments destroyed in the name of ethno-national policies, but also any cultural heritage that now represented an enemy in ‘our nation’ was removed: the Old Bridge and Orthodox cathedral in Mostar, Ivo Andric sculpture in Visegrad, Aladza Mosque in Foca, Ferhadija in Banjaluka, John the Baptist Church near Jajce… The perpetrators of these acts were running away from themselves, from their own past, seeking refuge in a mythical past of holy kings and ancestors, who they believed would protect and renew their own national identities.

Even though the fate of Yugoslavia’s disintegration with all its tragic consequences, became fully visible during the war in Bosnia and was perhaps most notably woven into monuments in the country, not all of the monuments were expressions to constitute political authority in times of war.
 
On the contrary, they also symbolize a manifold tradition of diverse cultures that did not form in opposition to each other, but through subtle intertwining and constant interaction which had characterized the way of life in Bosnia for centuries.
 
The famous Old Bridge in Mostar, which was destroyed during fighting in 1993, did not simply represent the identity of the nation, but it rather opened a place for everyday encounters of manifold, intertwining identities from diverse nations.

Ultimately, the question arises as to how trauma experienced by the victims during the war in Bosnia and Herzegovina can be expressed through monuments? In which way can a sculpture commemorate the innocents that perished in the past without fostering the impression that crimes ate the only paradigms to be embedded within the collective memory?
 
Nowadays, no great ideology exists that could give meaning to the victims as part of a vision of future progress and improvement. Hence monuments that could form a new political consciousness are not built anymore.

However, a need of the people- of those who survived and feel remorse- still exists to express closeness to those who have perished. A rare example is the memorial cemetery in Potocari, close to Srebrenica.
 
Through the simplicity of its smooth stone and the names of the deceased written onto it, reflects some sort of relation of the living towards the dead. It does not emphasize the lament over the Srebrenica genocide but rather expresses an overwhelming pain that in its ineffability exceeds rational imagination and understanding.
 
In this way, the monument eludes any narcissistic awareness of collective victimization, the kind of which, unfortunately, is all too often part of the ritualized and populist discourse of the political and religious elite in Bosnia and Herzegovina.

The current socio-political climate is marked by the Dayton Peace Agreement of 1995 that ended, or better froze, the war and represents an intersection of contradictory processes that are reflected by newly built monuments.
 
On the one hand, national aspirations exist regarding the separation of territories and their annexation to neighbouring countries, namely Serbia and Croatia. Thus, in the south-western Bosnian town of Tomislavgrad, stands a monument showing the medieval Croatian King Tomislav.
 
The monument embodies a mythical past aimed at legitimizing national sovereignty over a certain territory as well as state autonomy. Therefore, the medieval king represents neither elitism that rises above the working class, nor does he embody any aristocratic or divine nobility.
 
Instead he illuminates the origin of exclusive national will, the power of national unity and harmony. On the other hand, the general commercialization of society stultifies the meaning of public good, leading to the arbitrary placement of cheap symbols and superficial memorial inscriptions.
 
An example is the sculpture Multi-Ethnic Man, a donation from Italy that was placed in the Svjetlost Park in central Sarajevo. In its banality and impersonality, the sculpture seems to deny the very idea of multi-ethnicity.

In order to create a new political community, or a new unity in Bosnia and Herzegovina, it is necessary to consider all lines of separation and the symbolical power that has divided people and which is expressed by monuments and sculptures.
 
Then, finally, it may be able to let out the cathartic cry of liberation from the bloody past and thereby at the same time embody the sense for new multi-ethnic unity.

 

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Marina Abramovic – Death Toll Rising

“Once, Picasso was asked what his painting meant. He said, ‘Do you ever know what the birds are singing? You don’t. But you listen to them anyway.’ So, sometimes with art, it is important just to look.”

Towards the late 1950’s, Abstract expressionism began losing impetus, and many artists across the world, especially in America and Europe, embraced performance art. In that context, Marina Abramovic’s work is typical of the ritualistic strain in the 1960’s performance art, and very often involves putting herself in grave danger and performing lengthy, harmful routine that result in her being burnt or cut, or enduring some privation.
 
Her work might be interpreted as having displaced art from traditional media, as she moved it straight onto her body.

Background

Marina Abramovic was born on November, 30, 1946 in Belgrade, the capital of what was than Yugoslavia to an affluent family with politically active parents. Vojin and Danica Abramovic were Yugoslav partisans during World War II, and continue their engagement in General Tito’s communist party.
 
They were awarded high positions in the public sector for their contribution during the war; her mother became head of the Museum of Art and the Revolution in Belgrade, and her father worked with state security and was in the Marshal’s elite guard.

Marina’s relations with her mother were always fought. Her mother took strict control of eighteens-years-old Marina and her younger brother Velimir; under her mother’s strict supervision, she experienced life as difficult and cold. Although her mother was traditional, difficult and sometimes violent, she supported her daughter’s interest in art, encouraging her to express herself creatively through drawing and painting and at twelve was given her own studio at home.

Marina, age 5, in Belgrade
Marina, Age 5, Belgrade

Body Art & The Rhythm Series

Marina studied painting at the Academy of Fine Arts in Belgrade, from 1965 to 1970; during this period her earlier figurative expressions became increasingly abstract. During her further studies at Krsto Hegedusic’s studio and at Academy of Fine Arts in Zagreb, from 1970 to 1973, she began to use her body as a tool in her art, creating performative art pieces, creating sound installations, but moving towards works that directly involved the body.
 
In this period Abramovic spent most of her time at the SKC, Studentski Kulturni Centar, a cultural center in Belgrade, where she met young conceptual artists such as Rasa Popovic, Nesa Paripovic and Rasa Teodosijevic.

In 1973, Abramovic met the artist Joseph Beuys in Edinburgh and later that year at the Cultural Center in Belgrade. His happenings made a strong impression on Marina and greatly influenced her work. The same year, she enacted the performance piece Rhythm 10 at Vila Borghese, Museo d’Arte Contemporanea in Rome.
 
This piece is the first of the five performances in The Rhythm Series, in which she explored the limits of her body and consciousness.

On the Rhythm 10, she used a series of 20 knives to stab at the spaces between her outstretched fingers. In the process, every time she pierced her skin, she used another knife from those carefully laid out in front of her.
 
Halfway through, she began to play a recording of the first-half of the hour long performance, using the rhythmic beat of the knives striking the floor, and her hand, to repeat the movements, cutting herself at the same time.
 
She understood that drawing on the audience’s energy drove her performance, which was marked in this piece, and this aspect became an important concept informing much of her later work.

Viewing both performance and art as reaching beyond the realm of awareness, Marina has created performances in which she sleeps or becomes drugged into unconsciousness to examine this aspect of life; she used performance to push her mental and physical limits beyond consciousness.

For instance, in Rhythm 5, 1974, she created a star shape with wood shavings covered in gasoline and lit the wood on fire. After cutting her hair and nails and than dropping them into the fire, she lay down within the burning star, a symbol of Communism in Yugoslavia, as well as a symbol of the occult.
 
During this performance, audience members realized her clothes were on fire and she had lost her consciousness due to the lack of oxygen they pulled her out, and the performance was ended.

 

Pushing the limits further, in the performance piece entitled Rhythm 0, with a description reading ‘During this period I take full responsibility’ and ‘I am the object’ Marina invited participants to use any of 72 objects on her body in any way, they desired, completely giving up control.
 
Those 72 objects included a feather, pen, saw, lipsticks, book, band-aid, rose, salt, gun, paint, bullet, scissors etc. The audience divided itself into those who tried to protect her wiping away her tears, and those who sought to harm Abramovic, holding the loaded gun to her head, and.
 
Eventually, after she stood motionless for six hours, the protective audience participants insisted the performance be stopped, seeing that others were becoming extremely violent.

This piece was an example of Abramovic’s belief that confronting exhaustion and physical pain was important in making a person absolutely present and aware of her/his self. The work is also reflected her intention to include the spectators in the process; her interest in performance art was to transform both the performer and the audience, as the participants in the show.

She said that the inspiration for such work came from both her experience of growing up under Tito’s Communist dictatorship, and of her relationship with her mother. Her work in Yugoslavia was much about rebellion, not against just the family structure but the social structure and the structure of the system there; she was trying to overcome these kinds of limits.

1975 and on

These pioneering works were created at the time when performance art was still a new emerging art form in Europe, and she had little knowledge of performance being outside Yugoslavia.

In 1975, in Amsterdam, Abramovic met the German-born artist Frank Uwe Laysiepen, known as Ulay. He was a son of a Nazi soldier, born in 1943, in a bomb shelter in Solingen, an industrial city in Westphalia, Germany.
 
By fifteen, he had been orphaned, and was fending for himself. Marina met him on November, 30
th in 1975 in Amsterdam and their chemistry was immediate. According to her words, when she back to Belgrade, she got so lovesick that she couldn’t move or talk.
 
At the time, she was married to a former fellow-student from the Belgrade Academy of Fine Arts, but it was an oddly slack union; both spouses still lived with their parents. A few months later, Marina ran away in Amsterdam, at twenty-nine, to rejoin Ulay, her soul mate.

Ulay and Abramovic made art for twelve nomadic years, from 1976 to 1988, the two were artistic collaborations and lovers. Amsterdam was their base, but their home on the road, on Europe was a black Citroën van, which figured in their symbiotic work in performance of ideal couplehood.
 
They also lived in India’s Tibetan Buddhist monasteries, and with Australian Aborigines, and spending some time in Sahara, Gobi and Thar deserts.

They performed their works in gallery spaces, mostly in Europe; some of their best known works included Imponderabilia, from 1977; it included a naked couple planted like caryatids on either side of a narrow doorway at the entrance to a gallery, they backs to a frame.
 
Everyone who entered had to sidle past them, deciding which body to face.

Also, Breathing in/ Breathing out, 1977, in which they inhaled and exhaled from each other mouths until they almost suffocated. The performance named Rest Energy, from 1980, a highly intense piece that revealed the fragility of the line between death and life; it was only four minutes and ten seconds long.
 
Ulay and Abramovic faced each other, aiming an arrow a tense bow, just inches from her heart. They placed small microphones on their chests in order to make audible their increasingly rapid heartbeats in response to the growing danger.

Opposite Directions

When Marina and Ulay decided to end their relationship, they embarked on their last performance on March, 30, 1988, The Lovers; the walking along the Great Wall of China. Abramovic walked from the Shanhai Pass at the wall’s east end, Ulay walked in a opposite direction, from the wall’s western end near the Gobi Desert. After ninety days, they met and reunion marked a definitive end to their romantic relationship, as well as the twelve-year long artistic collaboration.
 
Their union was much battered and repaired, though it ultimately couldn’t survive the demands of such intense proximity or a discrepancy in ambition.

Since that point, they have had very little contact with each other, both proceeding independently with their own artistic career.

Marina returned to independent work and making it both solo as well as with artistic collaborators. In this period, she worked increasingly with video and sculpture; Transitory Objects for Human and Non-Human Use, which comprise objects meant to incite audience interaction and participation.

Blood and Bones

During the 1990s as a respectable performance artist Marina Abramovic taught at the Academie des Beaux-Arts in Paris, the Hochschule der Kunste in Berlin, as well as Hochschule fur Bildende Kunste in Hamburg and at the Hochschule fur Bildende Kunste in Braunschweig in Germany.

In 1997, Abramovic was invited to represent Serbia and Montenegro at the Yugoslavian Pavilion at the Venice Biennale. But, she broke off the collaboration after a conflict with the Montenegrin minister of culture. However, the performance piece Balkan Baroque was shown instead at the Italian pavilion, where it caused a stir.
 
She was awarded the Golden Lion prize for Best Artist of the Biennale.

The Balkan Baroque piece was created in response to the innumerable deaths that had taken place in the former Yugoslavia. In this performance, Marina spent four days, six hours a day, sitting on top of 1,500 cow bones in a white dress, washing each of these bloody bones, surrounded by projected images of her parents and herself.

The accompanying sound included her recorded description of methods used in Balkans for killing rats and her singing of her native folksongs. The performance progression was made visceral due to the fetid smell and unbearable heat of the basement room.
 
For the artist, it was not enough to simply recount the number of people lost in modern-day wars in Balkans. She aimed to remember the lives, hopes and efforts of individuals killed by carefully touching and cleaning ‘their’ physical blood and bones.
 
The comparison between the inability to scrub all the blood and the inability to erase the shame of was is a concept that Abramovic viewed as having universal reach.

 

 

Butcher Knives Ladder

In the early 1970s, while many artists made very little effort to capture, or document, their performances on video. They felt that the true performance could never be repeated.Marina Abramovic has since argued for the importance of continuing the life of performance art works through re-performance; the only real way to document a performance art piece is to re-perform the piece itself.

In 2002, in The House with the Ocean View, Abramovic spent twelve days in the Sean Kelly Gallery without speaking, eating and writing. Contained within three so called rooms built six feet off the ground, she slept, urinated, drank water, showered and gazed at the spectators wearing a differently colored outfit each day.
 
She could walk between the rooms, but the ladders leading to the floor had rungs made of butcher knives. In this performance, Marina ritualized the activities of daily life, focusing on the self and simplicity while eliminating all aspects of dialogue and narrative.
 
She stated that she saw this piece as an act of purification- for her, but also for any viewer who entered the space. Additionally, the piece was a shift from the masochism of her earlier works to performances that focus on ideas of presence and interaction, although there is still the element of danger (present in the butcher knives ladder).

 

One of the key figures of performance art, Marina Abramovic was part of the earliest experiments in this media, and nowadays, she is one of the few pioneers of the generation still creating and working in this field.
 
She has been, and continues to be, an essential influence for performance artists and contemporary art in general, making work over the last several decades, especially for works that challenge the mind and the limits of the body.
 
Abramovic’s feminism has always been a mythical rather than a political; her confrontation with the physical and self and the primary role given to the body, a female body have helped shape the direction of Feminist art in the second half of the 20
th century, especially in the 1990’s.

 

Retrospective

In 2010 the MoMa in New York City held a wide-ranging retrospective of Abramovic’s work, The Artist is Present. From opening time to closing, eight to ten hours a day, and for seventy-seven days, she sat immobile at a bare wooden table, gazing into space. Members of the audience participated by sitting in a chair opposite Abramovic’s; her intention was emotional connection with anyone who wanted to look at her however long.
 
It was an experiment that had never been tried before; The Artist is Present is the longest durational work ever mounted in a museum.

 

In order to give new life to older performance work, both, hers and the works of others artists, Abramovic create the Marina Abramovic Institute for Preservation of Performance Art, opened in 2012, in Hudson, New York.
 
As a non-profit organization, the Institute supports teaching, preserving and founding performance art, ensuring legacy for performance art and for the ephemeral art itself.

 


 

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Yayoi Kusama – Polka Dot Madness

Yayoi Kusama’s work has transcended two of the most important art movements of the second half of the 20th century: minimalism and pop art. Plagued by mental illness as a child, and thoroughly abused by a callous mother, the young artist persevered by using her hallucinations and personal obsessions as fodder for prolific artistic output in various disciplines.
 
This has informed a lifelong commitment to creativity at all costs, despite the artist’s birth into a traditional female-effacing Japanese culture, and her career’s coming of age in the male dominated New York art scene.

Her extraordinary career spans paintings, performances, room-size presentations, literary works, outdoor installations, sculpture, fashion, films, design, and intervention within existing architectural structures, which allude at once to a microscopic and macroscopic universe.

Early Life

Yayoi Kusama was born on March, 22, 1929 in Matsumoto, Japan, as the youngest of four children in a wealthy family. However, her childhood was less than idyllic or perfect. Her parents were the product of a loveless, arranged marriage.
 
Her father, emasculated by the fact that he had to take his wife’s surname as a condition of marrying into the wealthy family, spent most of his time away from home, womanizing, leaving his angry wife to physically abuse and emotionally torment her youngest child.
 
She would often send her daughter to spy on her father’s sexual exploits.

When Kusama began to see vivid hallucinations at the age of 10, her way of coping with the bizarre phenomena was to paint what she saw. She says that art became her way to express her mental disease.
 
For Kusama, art-making became a fundamental survival mechanism; it was her sole tool for making sense of a world in which she dwelt on the periphery of normative experience, and as a result, became the very thing that allowed her to assimilate successfully into society.

Disobeying her mother (who wanted her to simply be an obedient housewife) Kusama studied art in Masumoto and Kyoto. She had little formal training, studying art only briefly, 1948-49, at the Kyoto City Specialist School of Art.
 
At that time, there was a movement to reject the influences of Western culture in Japan, so Kusama was forced to only study Nihonga, which consisted of creating paintings using 1000-year-old traditional Japanese techniques and materials.

Move To United States

The conservative Japanese culture, and her abusive mother proved too much for Kusama, and 1957, she moved to the United States, settling in New York in the following year. Before she left, Kusama’s mother handed her some money and told her to never set foot in her house again.
 
In response, Kusama destroyed hundreds of her works.

In the United States, Kusama was free to explore her artistic expressions that were censored while living in Japan. With the help of artist Georgia O’ Keeffe, who Kusama had started a friendship with while still in Japan, she was able to secure exhibitions and also some sales, leading to interest in her work right from the start.
 
Also, there was a fascination with the foreign artist herself, and she struck up a deep relationship with her fellow artist Donald Judd and the middle-aged assemblage artist Joseph Cornell, who was also infatuated with Kusama, often writing her love letters and sketching her in the nude.
 
Because of her anxiety and fear of sex, both relationships, while very close, were strictly platonic. Kusama and Cornell developed such a close bond (allegedly, he shared her sexual aversion and hated sex) that when he died in 1972, she began creating collages to honor his work and cope with his passing.

In this period, Kusama worked feverishly, embracing the hedonist, free-spirit hippie culture of the 1960’s, which also included patriarchy, protesting war and capitalist society. Combining these themes with her personal anxieties, she created deeply intimate art, but also spoke to the injustices of the times.

Watercolors

The first works she exhibited in New York were her watercolors. These first works on paper showed the artist breaking free from traditional Japanese artistic practices and she was thought as a child and embracing Western artistic influences, especially in regards to abstraction.
 
The piece named The Woman, from 1953, is one of these earlier abstract works. The watercolor depicts a singular biomorphic form with subtle dots in the center floating in a seemingly black abyss. The form is reminiscent of female genitalia with red spikes surrounding it.
 
The overall effect: bizarre and aggressive.

Infinity Net

Her early work in New York included what she called “infinity net” paintings. Those considered of thousands of tiny marks obsessively repeated across large canvases without regard for the edge of the canvas, as if they continued into infinity.
 
Kusama’s Infinity Net series marks the beginning of a radical shift in her work from the singular abstract, biomorphic forms she painted during her youth to the more obsessive, repetitive works that would define her career.
 
They also showcase the way she used art to process her mental illness.

No. F. from 1959, is one of Kusama’s first works from the celebrated series. From a distance, the painting looks monochromatic and delicate, but when viewed up close, the complexities of the canvas’s surface become apparent.
 
The bluish-gray underlay is almost completely obscured by small, white semi-circles, which consume the entire canvas and only allow the gray underlay to be visible in the form of tiny dots.

no. f

The organic arched shapes all curve in the same direction, creating an undulating net that would continue on indefinitely if not for the edge of the canvas. This endless repetition caused a kind of dizzy, empty hypnotic feeling; the hypnotic feeling is furthermore translated to the viewer as they are invited to the artist’s mind.

The Nets are both minimal and expressive, bridging the two opposing movements. For Kusama personally, her Infinity Nets have become central to her practice, and continue to influence her work.

Minimalism / Pop / Avante Guarde

Her paintings from that period anticipated the emerging Minimalist movement, but her work soon transitioned to Pop and Performance art. She became a central figure in the New York avant-garde.

Accumulation No.1, from 1962, is the first in Kusama’s iconic Accumulation series, in which she transforms found furniture into sexualized objects. This piece, consist of a single abandoned armchair painted white and covered with soft, stuffed phallic protrusions, while fringe encircles the base of the sculpture.

No longer limited by the pictorial plane of the two-dimensional canvas, the stuffed sculpture continues Kusama’s repetition compulsion in three-dimensional form. The piece is both humorous and aggressive and works to confront with Kusama’s sexual phobias.

You Know You’re A Great Artist When…

Critics didn’t know what to make of this innovative art, and very soon the struggling artist went from obscurity to notoriety; her fame rivalled that of some of the most famous Pop artists, and Kusama enjoyed the attention.

In the Sex Obsessions Food Obsession Macaroni Infinity Nets & Kusama from 1962, she splayed naked on one of her famous soft sculpture furniture pieces laden with phallic accumulations and surrounded with macaroni pasta which forms her familiar pattern of repetition.

By inserting herself into the piece- on top of an object that represents a manifestation of her sexual aversion, Kusama attempts to subvert her own discomfort, in effect, to conquer it. It is a visual juxtaposition of her direct confrontation of a lifelong sexual aversion with the recognition of her nude self as an unmistakable, even if unwilling, object of sexual desire.

Although she is slim and stylish, positioned amongst a groovy psychedelic scene with strong visual impact, the rendering of her signature polka dots across her skin reminds the viewer that she is most comfortable when allowed to be seen as an intrinsic part of the artwork.
 
This brave presentation of herself in physical dialogue with her fears positions Kusama as a participant in the Feminist art movement of the time and also foreshadows her work in the late 1960’s in which she would use her body and the body of others in public performances.

 

Happenings

Starting in 1967, Kusama made fewer art objects and began experimenting with the performance art of the moment, ‘’happenings’’. Her first Anatomic Explosion (on the Wall Street) took place on October, 15th, 1968, opposite the New York Stock Exchange.
 
The performance was in opposition of the Vietnam War and was prefaced by a press release that stated that the money made with this stock is enabling the war to continue. The work featured nude performers dancing to the rhythm of bongo drums, while Kusama painted blue dots on their naked bodies.
 
For Kusama, nudity represents love and peace and was used to counter the tragedies and horrors of war. After 15 minutes the police came, putting an end to the spectacle.

Growing up in militaristic Japan during the World War II led Kusama to vehemently oppose social injustice and war. Her absurdly theatrical happenings, which were always overly political, were an expression of this opposition.

Mental Exhaustion

Her artistic output during this 15-year period was prolific and diverse, experimenting with various mediums. Sometimes, she would work up to 50 hours without rest. Eventually, the workload coupled with a lack of financial security and Cornell’s death took its toll, and in 1973 she move back to Japan to seek treatment for her mental exhaustion and declining physical health.
 
She began focusing on her surreal writing and avant-garde clothing line.

In 1977, after being diagnosed with obsessive-compulsive neurosis, Kusama checked herself in to the Seiwa Mental Hospital and has been living and working there by choice ever since.

When Kusama moved back to Japan in the 1970’s, she was all but forgotten by the Western art world. In Japan, she was mostly known for her violence-soaked writings, but that changed in 1993 when she was invited to represent Japan at the 45th Venice Biennale.

Pumpkin

The piece named Pumpkin from 1992 is one of Kusama’s first forays into outdoor sculpture. The giant yellow pumpkin sculpture is painted with rows of black dots fanning out from large to small around the gourd.
 
The pumpkin’s organic form and grand scale gives the work a cartoonish appearance, highlighting how strange the natural world appears in modern culture. Created in Japan, the work also reflects a shift in Kusama’s practice from her earlier aggressive and politically works to the more kitsch works that consume her art later in life.
 
The shift can be also attributed to the transition in Japanese culture from rigid and militaristic to a full on embrace of the ridiculous and tacky, as seen in the Hello Kitty cuteness in Kawai culture.

OCD Catharsis

Kusama’s art is fundamentally about obsession and the need, born of anxiety, to repeat certain acts in an attempt to free herself from that obsession. Since childhood, her art-making has been a private atavistic ritual, a necessary inducement to repetition that leads to catharsis.

Obliteration Room ( 2002-present) starts out as a blank canvas. Set up to resemble the interior of a domestic environment, the floor, walls, ceiling, furniture and little knick knacks are all painted sterile white.
 
Visitors to the room are handed a sheet of round stickers of various shapes and size determinate by Kusama, and invited to affix them to any surface in the room. The interactive installation was the first time Kusama moved away from creating passive environment to creating an environment in which its realization required participation from visitors.

Here’s a video showing Obliteration Room in action:


 

Hello Capitalism

In 2008, one of Kusama’s Infinity Nets, the same one once owned by Judd, set new art auction price records for a living female artist and led to collaboration with luxury fashion retailers like Louis Vuitton and Marc Jacobs.
 
Ironically, the woman whose art once protested capitalism and materialism, now fully embraces it.

Kusama began her Infinity Mirror Room series in the 1960’s, and so far has created twenty distinct rooms. They are culmination of her repetitive paintings, soft sculptures and installations into an immersive environment. The piece Infinity Mirrored Room – The Souls of Millions of Light Years Away from 2016, is her most recent iteration.

Each Infinity Mirror Room consists of a dark chamber-like space completely lined in mirrors. This particular room consists of small LED lights hung from the ceiling and flickering in a rhythmic pattern creating pulsing electronic polka dots.
 
The lights reflect off the mirrors in the intimate room creating the illusion of endless space; only one visitor at a time can experience the installation with the singular visitor becoming integral to the work, as his/or her body activates the environment once in the room.

Kusama’s far-reaching influence can be attributed to the fact that she has always been a step ahead of her time, with her art being at the forefront of many major artistic movements. Yet, her art-making process is so personal, and both a cure and a symptom of her mental illness; it does not fit into any of these defined movements.

Influence

More important than the impact her diverse work has on the art market is its influence on other artists and movements, which spans generations. Her work inspired Feminist artists, Pop artists like Andy Warhol, Performance artists like Yoko Ono, but also contemporary artists like Damien Hirst.

To this day, she represents herself as a lone wolf most comfortable with being known as independently avant-garde; her life is a poignant testament to the healing power of art and the study of human resilience.

Nowadays, Kusama reigns as one of the most unique and famous contemporary female artists, operating from her self-imposed home in a mental hospital.



 

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Modigliani and La Vie de Bohème

“With one eye you are looking at the outside world, while with the other you are looking within yourself.”

A participant in the Ecole de Paris, Modigliani modernized two of the enduring themes of art history: the nude and the portrait; his nudes and portraits- characterized by asymmetrical compositions, elongated figures and simple but monumental use of line- are among the most important portraits of the 20th century.

Amadeo Clemente Modigliani was born on July 12, 1884, into a household of faded luxury to Jewish parents, Flaminio and Eugenia, in Livorno, Italy. Shortly before his birth, the family businesses, had fallen onto hard times, forcing the Modiglianis to declare bankruptcy- his father squandered the family fortune and left.

Amadeo’s timely arrival may have resulted in the rescue of many valuable heirlooms; according to family legend, soldiers were forced to avoid Eugenia in childbirth as they came to repossess the furniture, in accordance with an old Italian custom that forbade the seizure of any possessions in the bed of a woman in labor.

His mother, Eugenia, an independent woman, went to work, which was nearly unheard of for a woman in Italian bourgeois families. She translated D’Annunzio for an American writer, opened an experimental school and instructed her children to read Henri Bergson and Nietzsche.
 
The atmosphere at home was religiously unobservant, liberal, and pluralistic.

 

Illnesses and The Fundamentals

In 1895, Amadeo contracted the first of several serious illnesses, typhoid, that he battled throughout childhood. His mother preferred an academic education for his son, but later acceded to his wishes to be an artist.
 
The following year, Amadeo gave up his regular schooling entirely to study with his drawing teacher Guglielmo Micheli, who instructed Modigliani in the fundamentals of the classical art.

After being diagnosed with tuberculosis in 1901, Modigliani recuperated in southern Italy, visiting museums in Rome, Naples, Florence and Venice. These visits familiarized him with classical Italian painting and sculpture, fueling his enthusiasm for the fine arts.
 
After the recuperation, he moved to Florence to study figure drawing at the Scuola Libera di Nudo.

Post-Impressionism in Italy and France

In Florence, intrigued by Manuel Ortiz de Zerate’s descriptions of Paris and the avant-garde, Amadeo decided to pursuit his ambitions there. But, encouraged by his mother to stay in Florence and restless for new opportunities, he moved to Venice and enrolled in the Scuola Libera di Nudo at the Istituto di Belli Arti, which he found overly traditional in its curriculum.
 
Growing increasingly dissatisfied with the art scene in Italy, with the mother’s blessing, Modigliani moved to Paris in 1909.

In Paris, he settled in an artist commune in the Montmartre and enrolled in de Académie Colaross. He threw himself feverishly into his work which by this time showed the influence of Post-Impressionism and painters such as Paul Cézanne and Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec. Very soon, he was absorbed into the Bateau Lavoir circle, which included Max Jacob, Pablo Picasso, Juan Gris, among other well-known art and literary figures.

Searching for an innovative style that could compete with those practiced by Parisian avant-garde, Amadeo Modigliani concentrated on painting. In this period, his work shows a high regard for the Post-Impressionists. Head of a Woman Wearing a Hat, from 1907, makes use of a curvilinear style, as a characteristic of Art Nouveau, but also, reveals the influence of Henri de Toulouse- Lautrec in the tilt of the woman shoulders and expressive face, revealing Modigliani’s early interest in representing psychological states.

In 1906, exhibition of three paintings at the Laura Wylda Gallery failed to generate any interest in his work. Frustration with his lack of success led Modigliani to abuse alcohol and drugs, further exacerbating his health problems.
 
But, his meeting with Paul Alexandre, a young physician, in 1907, who became his close friend and much-needed patron of his work, gave Modigliani a renewed sense of accomplishment and a steady source of work.

The piece named Jewess from 1908, a one of the Alexandre ‘s favorite works by artist is a thickly painted canvas influenced by German Expressionist and Paul Cézanne. Although wearing a composed expression, the stark whiteness of the sitter’s face contrasts harshly with her dark apparel, giving the composition and inner tension and suggesting strong emotions lying beneath the surface.
 
The painting’s melancholic overtones have invited comparison with the work of Pablo Picasso’s Blue Period. This piece is also one of the few Jewish-themed works by Modigliani, who was of Sephardic Jewish descent and publically embraced his Jewish identity.

Modigliani’s Sculptures

Trying to refocus his attention on sculpture, Modigliani looked to Romanian sculptor Constantin Brancusi, who he met in 1909. Although Modigliani is best known as a painter, he focused on sculpture early on in his career, and, some scholars have argued, may have regarded his true calling as that of sculptor.
 
The simple elegance of Brancusi’s forms made a strong impression on Modigliani and his style began to manifest itself in Modigliani’s work, as in the limestone Head, from 1910-12.

modigliani sculpture limestone head

In this piece, abstracted features and graceful contours suggests Brancusi’s influence, while elongated proportions, especially the swan-like neck, is reminiscent of ancient Egyptian busts, among the non-Western art forms that also influenced Modigliani’s work.
 
The subject’s elongated neck and nose, also slit-like eyes closely resemble the artist’s handling of these features in his nudes and portraits, suggesting the close connection between his work in sculpture and two-dimensional media.

The sculptures Modigliani created in 1909-1914, on which twenty-five carvings and one woodcut survive, were highly influential on his work as a painter, helping him arrive at the linear and abstracted vocabulary of his painting.

WW1

In 1914, the outbreak of World War I increased the difficulties of Modigliani’s life. Aleksandre and some of his other friends were at the front; his paintings did not sell; his delicate health was deteriorating because of his poverty, feverish work ethic and abuse of drugs and alcohol.
 
He was in the midst of a troubled affair with the South African poet Beatrice Hastings with whom he lived for two years (1914-1916). Beatrice Hastings became the subject of Modigliani’s several paintings and many of these portraits have an angelic quality that suggests a parallel between Dante’s own Beatrice and Hastings-an idea that likely appealed to Modigliani.
 
Soon after their separation, he fell seriously ill from alcoholism and malnourishment.

Modigliani returned entirely to painting about 1915, but his experience as a sculptor had fundamental consequences for his painting style. He reduced and almost eliminated chiaroscuro (the use of gradations of light and shadow to achieve the illusion of three-dimensionality), and he achieved a sense of solidity with strong contours and the richness of colors.

Modigliani’s Portraits

Modigliani was not a professional portraitist; for him the portrait was only occasion to isolate a figure as a kind of sculptural relief through firm and expressive contour drawing. He painted his friends, usually personalities of the Parisian artistic and literary world, but he also portrayed unknown people, including servants and models.
 
Modigliani’s portraiture achieves a unique combination of generalization and specificity. His portraits convey his subjects’ personalities, while his trademark stylization and use of recurring motifs-almond-shaped eyes and long necks- lends them uniformity. This part of his work also serves as a vital art historic record, comprising a gallery of major figures of the Ecole de Paris circle, to which he belonged following his move to Paris in 1906.

By this time, he had melded the influences of the Parisian avant-garde and arrived at his signature painting style, characterized by elegant linearity and the depiction of stylized, yet expressive figures. The best of these works give subtle glimpses into the personality of the sitter, such as the artist’s portrait of Jacques Lipchitz and his wife Berthe.
 
In this double-portrait from 1916, exemplifies Modigliani’s talent for eliciting the inner life of his subjects. Although his stylized method of painting presents two mask-like faces, they reveal subtle clues about the personality of each sitter; Berthe has an open, kindly face, conveyed by the brightness of the paint and downward tilting eyes, and Jacques, with his small, compressed features sloping inward, appears suspicious and calculating.

In the same year Modigliani began associating with the Polish poet and art dealer Leopold Zborowski, who arranged the artist’s first and only solo exhibition in his lifetime, at the Berthe Weill Gallery in December 1917.
 
Weill installed an attractive nude in the front window. Scandalized, the local police temporarily shut down the exhibition, but the unintended publicity resulted in better sales than usual for the habitually impoverished artist.

 

Jeanne Hebuterne

In 1917, Amadeo met Jeanne Hebuterne, a young art student and the two fell in love. When Modigliani entered into a relationship with Hebuterne, his close friend hoped that the serious young woman would inspire Modigliani to curb his excesses.
 
Hebuterne, however, loved the artist with a blind adoration that made no demands. There were no fundamental changes in his behavior, but Modigliani’s portraits of his young lover suggest the artist’s newfound sense of serenity and piece.

The Portrait of Jeanne Hebuterne, from 1918, less stylized than those in the artist’s earlier works, the sitter’s features, especially the sly, sideways gaze, suggests a psychological clarity that communicates Jeanne’s inner character.

Modigliani’s Nudes

In 1917, he began painting a series of about 30 large female nudes that, with their glowing colors and sensuous, rounded forms, are among his best works.

Modigliani’s nudes are often frank depictions of sensuality that frequently reference the traditional handling of this theme, but without the mythological context of their artistic precursors. For instance, The Standing Blonde Nude with Dropped Chemise, from 1917, suggests Sandro Botticelli’s Birth of Venus, a painting with which Modigliani was pretty familiar from his studies in Florence, through such features as the subject’s long blonde hair, tilted head and the figure’s contrapposto.
 
However, the classic composition is skillfully subverted and modernized. While Botticelli’s subject artfully covers her genitals with her flowing locks and smiles placidly, Modigliani’s sitter draws attention to this area with her dropped chemise and confronts the viewer with a slight smirk.

Tragic End for the Limestone Thief

In 1918, Hebuterne gave birth to a daughter and new familial responsibilities combined with his professional obligations to Zborowski, spurred Modigliani to increase productivity despite his fading health.

Yet, the artist’s health ultimately gave way, with Modigliani succumbing to tubercular meningitis and died on January, 24, 1920. The next day Hebuterne killed herself and their unborn child by jumping from a window.

Modigliani’s legacy is inextricably bound up with his tragic and bohemian life: his fragile health, which plagued him since childhood; his perpetual pennilessness and-most famously- his over-the-top, self-destructive lifestyle, which included sexual debauchery and overuse of alcohol and drugs.

The cliché is that he was never without his bow of hashish pills or a glass of absinthe. When he wasn’t nursing a café-crème and a hangover at la Rotonde, he was trading portrait sketches for a few centimes; or dancing naked with a woman at the Place Jean-Baptiste Clément at 3 in the morning; or picking fights; or swiping limestone from abandoned buildings for his sculptures because he was too poor to buy his materials.

He was a prototypical handsome, promiscuous, inebriated, pugnacious, misunderstood, tragically ill, vulnerable, gifted and short-lived examplar of la vie de bohème.

 

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Louise Bourgeois – Famous Women Artists In History

structures of existence the cells

“It is really the anger that makes me work’’ – LOUISE BOURGEOIS (1910-2010)

The French-born American artist, Louise Bourgeois was born in Paris, on Christmas day, 1911. She was one of the most influential sculptor of the 20th century. Her parents, Josephine and Louis, ran a tapestry gallery and lived in the famous and fashionable St Germain quarter in Paris, during the week; Bourgeois family also had a villa and workshop in the countryside where they spend their weekends restoring the antique tapestries.

Here is Louise peeling a tangerine and sharing a little anecdote about her family life to go along with it.


 

Growing Up

At the end of the World War I, during the global pandemic, Louise’s mother contracted influenza. During the course of the illness, her father handled the affairs, especially long-term one with his daughter’s governess, who resided with the family, which produced the tensions in the household.
 
It is thought this fear and the anger towards her father stayed with Louise Bourgeois, and became a motif within her works, almost all of them, created in New York where she lived after her marriage to art critic Robert Goldwater.

She often spoke of her early, emotionally conflicted family life as formative. Her affectionate and practical mother, who was an invalid, was a positive influence. Her domineering father and his marital infidelities instilled resentment and an insecurity that Louise never laid to rest.

For instance, her nightmarish tableau The Destruction of the Father, from 1974, holds an arrangement of beast-like bumps, phallic protuberances and biomorphic shapes in soft-looking latex that suggest the sacrificial evisceration of body, surrounded by big, crude mammillary forms.
 
After all, Ms Bourgeois has suggested as a tableau’s inspiration a fantasy from her childhood in which a pompous father, whose presence deadens the dinner hour night after night is pulled onto the table by other family members, gobbled up and dismembered.

 

The Destruction Of The Father – Louise Bourgeois

Education

Louise Bourgeois had a wide range of education. In the early 1930s, she studied philosophy and mathematics at the Sorbonne. In that time, she wrote her thesis on Emmanuel Kant and Blaise Pascal.

In 1932, she started studying art, after the death of her mother, enrolling in several schools and ateliers in the period in the 1930’s, including the Ecole de Beaux- Arts and Academie Julian, where she counted Fernand Léger, the brilliant interpreter of cubism, among her teachers. He taught her how to express human emotions with minimal use of line in the painting, and also, he recognized her interest in three-dimensional form, urged her to take up sculpture.

Her Paris apartment was on the Rue du Seine, in the same building as André Breton’s gallery Gradiva was, and where she was introduced to the Surrealists.

Louise Bourgeois in her studio

Adult Life

In 1938, Louise opened her own gallery in a sectioned-off area of her father’s tapestry showroom, and also began exhibit her own works at the Salon d’Automne. In that period of her life, she met her future husband, an American art historian and critic Robert Goldwater, noted for his pioneering work in the field then referred to as primitive art.

The married couple moved to New York that same year and Ms Bourgeois attended the Art Students League, where she studied painting with Vaclav Vytlacil and produced prints and sculptures.

Throughout the 1940s and 1950s, Louise’s husband Mr. Goldwater introduced her to a many of New York artists, dealers and critics. She knew many of the European surrealists then arriving as refugees in New York, later dismissed them as ‘smart alecks’; the artists to whom she felt closest were the American painters who would come to be known as Abstract Expressionists.

In the late ‘40s and ‘50s Louise Bourgeois had a several solo exhibitions in various New Your gallery. Her first solo exhibition of paintings happened in New York, 1945, and four years later, in 1951, her first exhibition of sculptures at the Peridot Gallery- an installation of tall pole-like figures that she intended as abstract portraits of the family members and portraits.
 
At this time, she gave up painting for good.

Her husband received a Fulbright grant, so they return to France for several years in the early 1950s, during which time her father died. Louise began psychoanalysis in 1952, continuing on and off until 1985.

From beginning of the ‘60s, Ms Bourgeois started experimenting with rubber, plaster, latex, and enjoyed some professional success as a sculptor. But significant shift in her career came in 1966, when she was included in ‘’Eccentric Abstraction’’ at the Fischbach Gallery in New York, an exhibition organized by critic Lucy Lippard.

Ms Bourgeois’ long involvement in the nascent feminist movement, about which she had ambivalent, but passionate feelings, began at this time. In the following period, she made one of her many trips to the marble works in Pietrasanta and Carrara, Italy, and produced dozens of her great and major pieces over several years.

Her husband died in 1973, the same year she began teaching at various institution including Columbia University, New York Studio School and Yale, which awarded her an honorary Doctor of Fine Arts Degree in 1977.

In the same period, she became politically active as a socialist and feminist, and joined the Fight Censorship Group, which defended the use of sexual explicit imagery in art and made several of her own sexually explicit works related to the female body, such as Fillette, a large detached latex phallus, from 1968.

Fillette – Louise Bourgeois

That piece is one of her most famous work. It showcases her use of biomorphic imagery and her experiments with and distortions of both female and male anatomy to the point that they become indistinguishable.
 
In this work, the testicles can be read as breasts and the erect penis can be seen as a neck. The bizarre juxtaposition of the title, which means little girl in English, and the priapism
of the work suggests a girl metamorphosed into that threatens her- in one version, the piece hangs from a hook and thus references castration; in the second one, the piece is being carried.

 

Rise To Fame As An Artist

By the mid 1970s, with shifts in the art world trends, her reputation was steadily growing. Marking her prestige in the art world, Bourgeois had her first retrospective in 1982, at MoMA, which was the first given to a female artist at that institution.
 
That retrospective secured her place as an influential figure.

In the following decade, her reputation grew stronger in the context of the body-centered art of the ‘90s, with its emphasis on vulnerability, mortality and sexuality.

Ms Bourgeois’ sculptures, in stone, steel, wood and cast rubber, very often organic in form and sexually explicit, emotionally aggressive yet witty covered many stylistic bases. But generally, they shared a set of repeated themes centered on the human body and its need for nurture and protection in a frightening world.

louise bourgeois sculptures

Certainly, her personal style contributed to her mystique. Her series of ‘’Cells’’ from the early 1990s, the installation of old doors, windows, steel fencing and found objects, were meant to be evocations of her childhood, which she claimed as the psychic source of her art.
 
These are dioramic, standalone sculptural forms – plaster casts, drawings and texts, as well as the penises, breast-like bulges and spiders, all within the confines of cell-like structures, usually penned in by doors or steel cages.

The Cells is her autobiography, her personal therapy and her catharsis, and through them she was able to analyze and express her memories, anxiety and fear of abandonment and pain. She only named these piece Cells from 1991 onwards, which explains the inclusion of her earlier work that seemed to inspire or influence the series.
 
So, combined the discernible theme of self, domesticity and motherhood could explain why Ms Bourgeois has become synonymous with the feminist art movement, taking on an almost ambassadorial role. She was a strong feminist, but never called herself a female artist or a feminist artist.
 
It would be reductive to call her with these names; it wouldn’t be able to place her gender from looking at a lot of the work. It was simply autobiographical for she dealing with universal emotions such as rejection and jealousy and these are pre-gender.

 

Structures Of Existence: The Cells – Louise Bourgeois

Gender And Art

But, one of the main reasons that she found herself in feminist movement was the timing of her work. Just as she seemed to find her feet in the 1950s, the male dominated genre of abstract expressionism exploded, making stars of the male contemporaries such as Mark Rothko and Jackson Pollock, and overshadowing her work.
 
Then, she began to rebel against patriarchy through her work. For instance, she thought that the surrealists made women the object of their work, whereas she was trying to make women the subject.

She was anxious, a trait she thought she inherited from her mother, and it is a continual thread through her work; she struggled with the burden of being mother, a wife and an artist.
 
She was also agoraphobic and often had insomnia, on occasions spending four consecutive days awake, by the end of which she would be in a manic state.

Being a woman making art about herself, it was probably unavoidable for the theme of gender to recur in Bourgeois’ work. It was her images of the body itself, fragmented, sensual but grotesque, and very often sexually ambiguous, that proved especially memorable.
 
In some cases, the body took the abstract form of an upright wooden pole, pierced by a few holes and stuck with nails; in others, it appeared as a pair of women’s hands realistically carved in marble and lying, palms open, on a massive stone base.

She transformed her experiences into a highly personal visual language through the use of mythological and archetypal imagery adopting a various objects, such as spirals, cages, spiders, medical tools, and sewn appendages to symbolize feminine beauty, psyche and psychological pain.

Number Seventy Two - Louise Bourgeois
Number Seventy Two – Louise Bourgeois

Louise Bourgeois often spoke of pain as a subject of her art, and fear- fear of the uncertainty of the future, fear of the grip of the past, of loss in the present.’’— The subject of pain is the business I am in…To give meaning and shape to frustration and suffering,… The existence of pain cannot be denied.
 
I propose no remedies or excuses.’’ It was her gift for universalizing her interior life, a complex spectrum of sensations that made her art so affecting.

Through the use of abstract form and a wide variety of media, she dealt with notions of universal balance, playfully juxtaposing materials conventionally considered female or male.

Conclusion

Louise Bourgeois gained fame only late in a long career, when her psychologically and abstract sculptures, prints and drawings had a galvanizing effect on the work of young artists, especially women.

Louise Bourgeois’ work always centered upon the reconstruction of memory, and in her 98 years, she produced an as astounding body of drawings, prints, books, sculptures and installations, which, nonetheless, has been the representative of both the tumultuous events of the 20th century in her life and in the world at large.

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