Louise Bourgeois’ hang-ups are revealed in ’Suspension’ at New York’s Cheim & Read

Louise Bourgeois’ hang-ups are revealed in ’Suspension’ at New York’s Cheim & Read

Louise Bourgeois might be best known for her otherworldly spider sculptures, but a new showcase of all-hanging works at Cheim & Read in New York traces the artist’s fascination with suspended art, which she has continually experimented with throughout her career. Aptly titled ’Suspension’, the exhibition is the first survey of Bourgeois’ hanging sculptures, featuring examples from her recurring themes - like the 1968 ’Janus’ series and her 1990s cloth figures.

Spanning more than 45 years of Bourgeois’ career, the 25-piece show is a tribute to the artist’s dynamic way of working. ’Louise liked doing forms with different materials. She had no allegiance to any material,’ says her longtime chief assistant Jerry Gorovoy, who led a private tour during the opening of the show. ’Sometimes the same piece would be done in different materials and they would all have a very different feel.’

From fabric-covered torsos hung tenderly upside down to the bronze-painted ’Lair’ (1962), one of the earliest pieces in the show, the sculptures share physical characteristics despite their formal differences. Even the more abstract pieces - such as ’The Quartered One’ (1964-5) and ’Fée Couturière’ (1963) - have anthropomorphic qualities, linking back to recurring themes in Bourgeois’ work, whether they be feelings toward her father or her ideas about gender and sexuality.

By abandoning conventional plinths and allowing each work to move freely from its perch, the past Wallpaper* guest editor (W*115) bestows her sculptures with an instability that counters their density and weight. The hanging of works is also an expression of her state of mind. The artist once traced her fascination with suspension back to her childhood, when her father would hang his collection of wooden chairs off wood beams in the attic. ’It was very pure,’ she once said. ’You would look up and see these armchairs hanging in very good order. The floor was bare - this is the origin of a lot of hanging pieces.

’Suspension’ unveils several works for the first time: the eye-catching and macabre ’Legs’ (2001); the knitted, double-headed ’Arch of Hysteria’ (2004); and the spiraling ’The Couple’ (2007-9), a seven-metre version of which will be installed in Vienna’s Wien Mitte station in the near future. Bourgeois may no longer be with us, but her spirit, as this exhibition proves, is still very much alive.

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