Three by Three: Second Round

Tue, May 31, 2011
Louise Bourgeoiss Nature Study
Louise Bourgeois's Nature Study

Here's the second post in our three-part series of essays about our current exhibitions from Candace Stout's Art Education class titled Writing Art Criticism. Ian Mikaloj, a junior from Seville, Ohio, who is majoring in microbiology, offers his thoughts on Human Behavior and Double Sexus.

Maybe it was the cold rainy weather, the darkness of the museum, or perhaps my lack of sleep, but the exhibits had a power over me that I had not anticipated.

At first glance I found Nathalie Djurberg's puppets in Human Behavior disturbing and abrasive. A feeling swept over me that I had not felt in years. I was reminded of evil characters from a children's story, the gaunt skin, penetrating eyes, and hooked noses of the three priest puppets chilled me to the bone. I had an intuition that the film playing just around the corner would have something to do with sexual abuse and the church, but the nature of the video was more upfront and graphic than I had dared to imagine. I found myself relieved for a moment each time we moved on to a new piece only to find the next piece as disturbing as the last. The thing that left me feeling so anxious and unsettled is difficult to explain, it could be the tainting of objects and characters associated with the innocence of childhood that was difficult to watch. The character's design appealed to my inner child. By catching the attention of the part of myself that is vulnerable and usually protected, each video was able to shove, cram, and jam its point home in an extremely potent fashion.

Double Sexus was not nearly as torturous as Nathalie Djurberg's exhibit, however the appeal to “darker” sides of human nature was still apparent and I held my breath once again as I walked past the “for mature audiences” sign into the exhibit. This exhibit, thankfully, was filled with ambiguous and abstract pieces. Yet many of these pieces were contradictions since the artist's intention was still transparent even while the pieces were ambiguous.

Initially I found myself more drawn to the works of Hans Bellmer. Bellmer challenged me to consider how we view different parts of the human body through his own somewhat grotesque manner of constructing dolls with abnormal body construction. I found most of his pieces far more intricate, beautiful in form, and interesting than Louise Bourgeois's works, which to me sometimes came across as amorphous and crude. Although Bellmer constructed parts of people (mainly women) in abnormal ways, there was something about the curves and lines of the pieces of the body that were intact, which held my attention. Although I preferred Bellmer's drawings to his sculpture/photography, one picture in particular captivated me. It was the picture entitled La Poupée or The Doll in which the partially dressed subject is a doll “looking” back over her shoulder into the picture while resting her head against the wall. Little details also help bring the doll to life such as the way she tucks her chin into her shoulder so that her lips lightly graze her shoulder. Also the way her tank top hangs loosely of her body is very lifelike. Right now in the middle of writing this I have just realized that I am more inclined to refer to the doll as a she than an it, so I will continue to refer to her in this way.

Maybe it's my stereotypical “maleness” (as John Berger describes in Ways of Seeing) that finds comfort in the familiar image of Bellmer's interpretation of a classic “nude” with a quasi-nude doll. One does get a feeling that the doll is exhibiting submission to the viewer. However, maybe this is not the case. This image seems to be anything but classic since the doll is missing part of her head, most of her hair, and a leg; not to mention having severely cracked and damaged “skin.” Also her expression could be interpreted as wanting help rather than submission. Either way it was clear to me that the photo was beautiful.

I can't say that I disliked all of Louise Bourgeois's work. Like our guide said, there seems to be an element of dark humor to her work… I hope. I found many of her pieces ugly, disturbing, and amorphous but maybe that is the point. After walking down into the lower level of the exhibit and into the Diana of Ephesus area, one sculpture caught my eye and like many times before I found myself wanting to leave our guide and walk over to the piece. I was being drawn toward it. Finally our group made our way over to Louise Bourgeois's sculpture (which I was actually mildly surprised to find out was hers). I think I may be a sucker for interesting form, I didn't even care to look into any innuendo the piece may have been tied to. The quality of the sculpting, the curves and the cleanness and finished look of what had been sculpted, to me, was something that was fantastic and lacking from her other urethane and mixed media sculptures. Immediately I was reminded of her hands clutching and grasping her sculptures in the video we saw in class. There is no doubt in my mind that she had this tactile connection to this piece as well. I also wanted to touch it.

Complete Image Caption
Louise Bourgeois
Nature Study, 1984–2001
Pink rubber
30 x 19 x 15 in.
Courtesy Cheim & Read, Hauser & Wirth, and Galerie Karsten Greve
Photo: Christopher Burke

Jean Dubuffet, Vaches au pre (Cows in a meadow), 1954

Reserve your tickets now for Transfigurations: Modern Masters from the Wexner Family Collection, on view Sept 21–Dec 31. Learn more about the exhibition.

Artists featured in Transfigurations: Modern Masters from the Wexner Family Collection

Learn more about the artists represented in Transfigurations at our dedicated website. (Educators will also find curriculum resources to support their K–12 classrooms.)

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