'The subject of pain is the business I am in,' said Louise Bourgeois, the late French-American artist whose 70-year-career was driven primarily by profound anguish, anxiety, and fear. In her final decades, these feelings manifested themselves in the form of cells, sculptural compositions semi-enclosed by walls, which for her meant both a retreat from the outside world and the confines of her mental prison.
Dozens of these almost-architectural pieces are now on view now at Moscow Garage Museum of Contemporary Art’s 'Louise Bourgeois. Structures of Existence: The Cells,' alongside the early sculptures, paintings, and drawings that foreshadow this later body of work.
Additionally, the iconic and ominous nine-metre-tall bronze spider Maman greets visitors at the square in front of the museum, and the never-before-presented monumental mirror Has the day invaded the night or has the night invaded the day? will confront them as they enter the atrium.
The cells, comprising found and sculpted objects – meat grinders, mesh cages, glass orbs and stairs to nowhere – revisit recurring themes: the mirror as a symbol of both deflection and self-awareness, for example, or the spiral, which for Bourgeois represented control. Throughout, her pain is palpable: a headless wooden mannequin arches its back in agony. Elsewhere, the blade of a paper cutter is poised to fall on a small sculpture of a person.
In laying these raw emotions bare, however, the artist found comfort. 'Bourgeois always said that she made work for herself,' says Garage chief curator Kate Fowle, emphasising the freedom and autonomy inherent in creating these miniature worlds. Bourgeois expressed her need to create art explicitly in Cell I, in which she stitched a message onto the bedsheets: 'Art is the Guarantee of Sanity.'