Robert Storr, art curator, critic, painter and current dean of the Yale School of Art, presented a lecture on French-American Artist Louise Bourgeois in Lucie Stern Hall at Mills College on Wednesday, Feb. 4.
Louise Bourgeois, who died in 2010 was most renowned for her paintings and sculptures. She was a prolific and influential figure in both modern and contemporary art, with a career that spanned most of the 20th century and into the 21st.
Storr, a biographer and a close friend of Bourgeois until her death at 98, published a biographical survey of her work in 2003 on Phaidon.
Storr’s lecture was a mixture of detailed presentations on a chronological selection of Bourgeois’ work and personal anecdotes. Storr depicted Bourgeois as a dynamic and unique artist, whose work embraced aesthetic elements of both cubism and surrealism but rejected to assimilate to their ideas.
Storr explored Bourgeois’ work through its themes of the community and the collective feminist expressions of male and female form and through her experimentation with various sculptural mediums.
“Louise shifted from painting to sculpture because painting doesn’t show enough resistance,” Storr said, showing pictures of Bourgeois’ early sculptures made from planks found on the rooftop of her New York City apartment.
“[In these sculptures], she was particularly interested in the individual’s relationship with the world built on risk and uncertainty, and the capacity of a member to sustain the community or wreak havoc,” Storr said in relation to many of Bourgeois wooden sculptures — some of which contain figures that are almost unable to support themselves.
Storr also spoke about Bourgeois’ later use of non-traditional materials, such as plaster and latex, to achieve organic textures and tactile elements in her sculptures. Many of these works evolved around themes of the male phallus and the female body, often in a single piece. These sculptures show Bourgeois’ interpretations of “the human body in aggregate from a female’s perspective,” Storr said.
“A lot of art criticism that I have read take on a psychoanalytic angle of the work, so it’s very refreshing to hear a presentation that distances itself from that perspective,” audience member Dan Swindel said.
Critiquing the psychoanalytic stance many of Bourgeois’ pieces encounter, Storr says, “the dynamics of her work are open to interpretations.” He argues that by taking a literal perspective one reduces art to mere images whose symbolic nature denies the work from its own manifestation.
“Louise’s claim to fame is defined by her innovations and contributions to the art forms which she practices,” Storr remarked on Bourgeois’ legacy.
Aside from the formal presentation of Bourgeois’ work, Storr told personal anecdotes about the artist, particularly from her famous Sunday salons where young artists would gather at her Chelsea townhouse to show her their works.
The event was part of Mills College’s Artist Lecture Series, sponsored by Corenah Wright Lecture Series and the Mills College art department. For upcoming events in the Artist Lecture Series, visit www.mcam.mills.edu/events.