Taking its title from Blaise Pascal’s famous phrase “the heart has its reasons of which reason knows nothing”, “The Heart Has Its Reasons” (running from 19 December, 2020 to 31 March, 2021 at Hauser & Wirth, Gstaad, Switzerland) features a selection of sculptures and drawings by celebrated French-American artist Louise Bourgeois (1911-2010), who was known for themes like domesticity, family, sexuality and mortality.
The works in the exhibition span from 1949 to 2009 and explore subjects that were central to Bourgeois’ practice. She studied mathematics and philosophy at the Sorbonne, Paris, and wrote her thesis on Pascal; but the death of her mother in 1932 eventually led her to quit these studies and turn to art-making.
Yet she remained a Pascalian, so to speak, in her belief that there is something in our emotional and psychological experience of the Other that eludes, or transcends, rational explanation. For Bourgeois, this relationship to the Other is a complex arrangement, and a world in itself. This exhibition speaks about Bourgeois’ need for love, the ‘polar star’ she could not live without.
In a loose sheet around the year 1955, she is supposed to have recorded:
Would it be absurd to
say that strength (the one I
work so much on acquiring) is
the competence of the heart
Simple in form and unornamented, her pieces, nonetheless, seem as though they emerge from a place of great and deep thought and feeling. The motifs that unify the presentation (the couple, the paired form, the house, the bed, landscape, and human anatomy) are grounded in the dynamic interplay between the binary oppositions—mind and body, geometric and organic, male and female, conscious and unconscious—that animate Bourgeois’ work as a whole.
In ‘Eyes’ (2001), light emanates from the protruding pupils as if to project an inner psychic landscape onto external reality. For Bourgeois, the act of looking symbolises introspection and self-knowledge, but also has its sexual and erotic side (that is, looking and being looked at).
In ‘The Couple’ (2007-2009), the hair of the female figure is transformed into an eccentric spiral form that binds her together with the male figure. That the sculpture hangs from a single point expresses the fragility and precariousness of the relationship. The tight coils of the enveloping spiral are aimed at warding off the fear of separation and abandonment.
The house that sits on one of the cast arms in ‘Untitled No. 7’ (1993) represents an ideal of repose, safety, and the happy couple.
It is believed that a big motivation behind Bourgeois’ practice was her traumatic childhood—art was a response to painful memories, a way of understanding, overcoming and achieving peace with past events. She had a complicated relationship with her parents, who had a complicated relationship with each other. Bourgeois’s mother, Joséphine, would remain ill for long periods. Her father had a series of mistresses; his unfaithfulness gave rise in her to a massive fear of being left alone. The First World War, which began when she was just three years old, made her difficult experiences even more intense.
It is no surprise that in her work she endeavoured to reach a sense of solidity and stability in the face of life’s tenuousness. The pupils point to careful attention and engagement in human dynamics, the coil to longlasting commitment, hands within hands to protection and the certainty of home.
“The Heart Has Its Reasons” coincides with ‘Louise Bourgeois. To Unravel a Torment’ at the Serralves Museum, Porto, Portugal, on view from 3 December, 2020 to 27 June, 2021. Forthcoming projects include the upcoming exhibition ‘Louise Bourgeois, Freud’s Daughter’ opening next spring at The Jewish Museum in New York, NY, curated by Philip Larratt-Smith.
Links: Wikipedia (en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Louise_Bourgeois) | Tate (www.tate.org.uk/art/artists/louise-bourgeois-2351/art-louise-bourgeois)