Thursday, July 31, 2008


A few Sundays ago I treated my friend Howard to a day at the Guggenheim Museum to see the Louise Bourgeois retrospective. I of course did not plop down $40.00 for tickets, but simply presented my artist in the collection life time pass and we were in. The Gu Mu as I call it, acquired two sculptures of mine as gifts from a collector back in the early 80‘s. I have never seen them on display and for all I know they are languishing in some dark hole beneath all those spirally ramps. The retrospective was an intriguing and sometimes satisfying experience for me, but I can’t say that I love Ms. Bourgeois work. I find too much of it way too organic, ugly and physically clumsy. I am not one for oozing and breast like shapes nor forms made of latex or phallic sculptures. Nor do I care for cheap surrealism. Latex is an ugly medium to work with, and as far as I‘m concerned the only artist who used this stuff well was the late and great sculptor Eva Hesse. The ugliest piece in the show and also what might be one of the ugliest pieces of sculpture of the 20th century is her “The Destruction Of The Father” from 1974. (Dig the subtle title) which was a diorama of latex and plaster breast like shapes that is set into a wall and lit from within by a red light. It reminded me of one of those ghastly and ghostly dioramas that I use to love in the old spook rides at Coney Island. Bourgeois as many people know is 96 and has been making art forever or maybe it just seems that way. In the early 1970’s she could be seen everywhere, at gallery openings, at art world parties in the streets and galleries of Soho, and nobody gave a shit about her or her work, not critics, other artists or dealers. Embraced by the feminists and their critics but ignored by everyone else she plugged away. Her invisibility changed when the Museum of Modern Art gave her a retrospective in 1982, which came as a great surprise to some, and suddenly she was a hot art world commodity. Go figure, but good for her anyway. I’m all for the recognition of neglected artists, especially since I might be one of them myself. My favorite pieces of hers were the early wood totem sculptures she calls personages and some of the other wood works done by her in the late 1940’s and early 50’s. The latest works called cells are large enclosed room like spaces surrounded by doors and filled with various objects, small sculptures and mementos that we view from openings in and between the doors, and seem to have great meaning for the artist, but left me cold and bored. They look like displays you might see in the windows of Barney’s or strange period rooms that mimic the ones you can see at The Brooklyn Museum. In the early 70’s I was at a small dinner party given by two art world friends and Louise was one of the guests. Also at the dinner was Alice Neel who was the complete opposite of Louise. I don’t recall Louise saying much at dinner that night. She was quiet and small, demure and somewhat shy I thought, but next to Neel, anyone would seem quiet and demure. Alice started yakking the minute she wobbled in and didn’t stop talking, mainly about herself the whole night. At one point she turned to me and asked who I was. When I told her that I was an artist, she turned away from me, and went on talking about herself. Louise of course knew my work as I was showing my art and myself quite a lot in the early and mid 70’s. I liked Louise and wish that I had gotten to know her better when I had the chance. I couldn’t stand Alice Neel even though I’ve always liked her paintings and found her life story very colorful and interesting. I just couldn’t stand to be around her and I was not alone in my dislike of her. Once at an opening of some show or other at the Whitney she baited and taunted a well known realist painting for no apparent reason that I could see, and the painter bit back telling her off. “ Now that you’re rich and famous you should be kinder and more generous” Alice told the painter. No doubt she meant that he should be kinder and more generous to her. Many years ago, an artist acquaintance of mine was walking around the Lower Eastside when it was still low, and saw an old Puerto Rican man pushing a supermarket cart full of stuff towards him. He suddenly stopped short when he noticed that attached to the front of the wagon was one of Alice Neel’s paintings. The artist knew it was a Neel because he was a friend of hers and his daughter had posed for her. “How much do you want for the painting” he asked? “Give me $10.00 the man replied and so the artist gave him the money and took the Neel home with him to his apartment on Ave A. He called me on the phone to tell me about this unbelievable stroke of fortune and said that he would return the painting to Alice and that maybe she would give him a reward, as she was starting to sell her work for a lot of money and after a life time of poverty she was rolling in the dough. “You should keep it I told him and wait until she kicks the bucket, which should be anytime now and then sell it.” He knew how much I disliked Alice and chuckled but he had made up his mind and was going to call her and return the painting to her. “You’re nuts” I told him, but sure enough he called her and the next day he wrapped up the painting and took it on the subway to her apartment. Just as I expected she offered him nothing except the $10.00 that he had bought the painting back for. As Me and Howard made our way down the ramps of the Guggenheim, he read out loud to me from the museum guide “Listen to this Ira Joel “Louise Bourgeois is of one of the most important artists of our time.” “Well maybe of their time, but certainly not of my time” I replied. “Let’s go eat.” “Yes indeed, yes indeed he said” as we walked by one of her hideous large spider sculptures in the rotunda and out into the fine early summer New York afternoon.

Pictures are of Louise Bourgeois and a self portrait of Alice Neel


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