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Louise Bourgeois - Nature Study 

Sat 3 May - Sun 6 Jul 2008

Louise Bourgeois 

Louise Bourgeois: "The Family I, 2007", Gouache on paper, suite of 12, each: 59.7 x 45.7 cm.

This exhibition brought together recent works on paper by the American sculptor Louise Bourgeois and botanical teaching diagrams made in the mid-nineteenth century (by various artists) for John Hutton Balfour (1808-1884).

These two bodies of work - widely divergent in time, purpose, and style - nonetheless displayed curious formal affinities, and at time touched on strikingly similar themes. Taken together, they form a dialogue that communicates a particularly strong and authentic fascination for the natural world - and for life itself.

The teaching diagrams of Hutton Balfour were presented here on the occasion of the bicentenary of his birth. During his lifetime, Edinburgh continued to be a great centre of medical training, and it was as visual aids for teaching medical students that Hutton Balfour's drawings were made.

As a young woman Bourgeois studied mathematics and her favourite geometrical form remains the ellipse - because it has two centres. She has often expressed her conviction that identity is a dialogue. We hope that this dialogue between Bourgeois and Hutton Balfour's artists may further our appreciation of these singular bodies of work.

Louise Bourgeois

Louise Bourgeois: "Femme, 2007", gouache on paper, 37.1 x 27.9 cm.

Louise Bourgeois - Nature Study

Of the various media which Louise Bourgeois has employed over the course of her career, drawing has remained the most consistent and the most intimate. Her most recent series of gouaches, realised in the latter half of 2007 and presented here for the first time, explores universal themes within nature - growth, decay, and regeneration.

Nature Study comprised twenty two works on paper supplemented by three recent works of sculpture. Direct and immediate, the gouaches - in various shades of red, which to the artist signifies blood, passion, and emotional intensity - provide a vivisection of certain persistent characteristics of her work: her fine awareness of the fragility of human relationships and her fear of abandonment, her unsparing self examination and her formal inventiveness.

To these may be added an acceptance of luck and fate, and (as she looks back over her life) a desire to explore and confirm her identity as mother, daughter, and wife. When Bourgeois began working on this series in late summer 2007, her first works tended towards the graphic, with clean lines and more empty space; but as she found her subject the works became gradually more painterly and gestural. Working ‘wet on wet' - that is, allowing new applications of gouache to soak into old ones; Bourgeois allows a certain amount of chance to affect the outcome of each work. The recurring images of the various stages of parturition and breastfeeding reveal the centrality of motherhood to Bourgeois' conception of herself and reflect a desire to remain connected.

Recent years have seen a shift in the artist's motivational concerns away from her father and towards her mother. As a young girl she nursed her mother when afflicted with the Spanish flu; now that she is old and frail and dependent on others, Bourgeois herself feels in need of a mother to take care of her. Shuttling (in these works) between the roles of mother and daughter, Bourgeois recovers the profound identification of the one with the other based on the shared capacity for motherhood, so that, as Louise has said; ‘they shall not be separated again'.

Philip Larratt-Smith and Paul Nesbitt.

La Rivière Gentille

A recent documentary about Louise Bourgeois, by the film maker Brigitte Cornand, shown for the first time in Scotland (100 mins, 2007); was screened continuously throughout the exhibition in the lower ground floor gallery.

 La Riviere Gentille

Still from La Riviere Gentille; a film by Brigitte Cornand 

The exhibition was accompanied by a postcard set containing reproductions of seven of the Teaching Diagrams and a film still from La Rivière Gentille (£4.50). A fully illustrated two-volume publication, NATURE STUDY, designed by John Cheim and containing essays by Philip Larratt-Smith and H.J. Noltie is available for £50. 

Louise Bourgeois was born in Paris in 1911, and studied at the École du Louvre and in the private atelier of Fernand Léger. In 1938 she married the American art historian Robert Goldwater and moved to New York. She became an American citizen in 1955. A landmark retrospective at MoMA in New York in 1982 brought her widespread recognition, and since then her work has been assessed and celebrated in major venues all over the world. In 2007 a large-scale retrospective was inaugurated at the Tate Modern in London: then travelling to the Centre Pompidou in Paris, the Guggenheim Museum in New York; the Museum of contemporary Art in Los Angeles and the Hirschorn Museum in Washington, D.C. Louise Bourgeois lives and works in New York City.

 Louise Bourgeois

Louise Bourgeois: "Topiary", 2005, pink marble, 67.3 x 27.9 x 22.2 cm.

Louise Bourgeois

Louise Bourgeois: Pregnant Woman, 2007, gouache on paper, 37.1 x 27.9 cm.

All works courtesy the artist and Cheim & Read, New York.

Photography: Christopher Burke. 

Inverleith House wishes to thank the Scottish Arts Council for its support of the exhibitions programme and is deeply grateful to Louise Bourgeois, Philip Larratt-Smith, Jerry Gorovoy and Wendy Williams for their assistance in the realisation of this exhibition. Works by Louise Bourgeois courtesy of Cheim & Read, New York.

For more information please contact ihouse@rbge.org.uk

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