Portrait of Louise Bourgeois holding Filette by Robert Mapplethorpe
I was a little dumbfounded on how to start writing something about Louise Bourgeois, sculptural artist and feminist du jour, because I neither like nor hate her work. Something about her phallus sculptures bore me and I do not care for her struggle with her femininity. But then I went through an article that began about woman in art. Obviously some strong feminist points of view were written down and as always in an article that mentioned being a woman it enraged me. There is one quote that is so bafflingly sexist that I can’t help but sharing it here. Coming from Schopenhauer “…women could be called the unaesthetic sex. Neither for music, nor poetry, nor the plastic arts do they possess any real feeling or receptivity: if they affect to do so, it is merely mimicry in service of their effort to please.” (Read more baffling sexism here.)
One thing men (and women!) keep bringing up is the lack of “true great artists” in history. Well, weren’t we denied all the privileges of boys? Weren’t we allowed only by 1861 in academies? And even then were we not ridiculed if we aspired to achieve more than to be a loyal wife and excellent mother? Woman artists have always been looked down upon and men claimed them to be inferior. But aren’t Camille Claudel sculptures sometimes superior of Rodin’s works? Isn’t Hannah Höch one of the best Dadaists? Aren’t Käthe Kollwitz’ Works breathtakingly beautiful? Don’t you just adore Frida Khalo’s emotion and strength? And what about Françoise Gillot, Marie Cosway, the previously mentioned Cindy Sherman and Marina Abramovic? Don’t they deserve recognition too? Where are the love-anthems in art history for them?
Good, I got that out of my system; now let’s look into Louise Bourgeois feminist art. What’s most important in Louise’s work is her hate-relationship with her father. An anecdote of her childhood easily sums it all up. When preparing dinner her father cuts out a girl-shaped figure out of a mandarin peel and says ‘This is Louise and she has nothing between her legs.’ Louise then revenges herself, sculpts a man-figure and chops off his legs and arms! She saw this as her first sculptural solution. She has always felt her father would have preferred a boy over her and this frustration is seen clearly throughout her work.
Personally I am tired of all these penises and vaginas in modern day art. Penis vagina, penis vagina, penis vagina, blah blah! I think the only works of Bourgeois that actually say something about the stereotype of female behaviour and what men expect of us is the Femme Maisons series.
In these she clearly criticises a woman’s place in this world by showing us that being a house-wife is what is expected of us. (Although it’s a little to literal for my taste.)
While this, two testes with a vagina stuck in the middle, means nothing to me. Perhaps it’s simply a matter of personal taste.