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Gemeentemuseum Opens Louise Bourgeois Exhibition

The Gemeentemuseum Den Haag presents an exhibition on artist Louise Bourgeois, who died on 29 May this year.

The exhibition, open through 16 January 2011, confronts her work with that of Hans Bellmer and is being held in cooperation with the Nationalgalerie Berlin.

It is the very last exhibition on which Bourgeois collaborated in person. The confrontation of her work with that of Surrealist artist Bellmer appealed strongly to her. Director Benno Tempel: ‘Despite her advanced years, Louise Bourgeois’ death came as a surprise. She carried on working with amazing energy right to the end and she was heavily involved in the preparations for this show.’

The work of both Bourgeois and Bellmer is heavily influenced by childhood experiences. In both cases, the relationship with a dominant father is an especially important factor. Louise Bourgeois was born in Paris in 1911. Her father was a high-handed, authoritarian man who openly pursued a sexual relationship with his children’s governess. He belittled Bourgeois from childhood on and made her feel that, as a woman, she was necessarily inferior. In retaliation for a denigrating remark from her father, she once made a model of his body out of bread and spit. Then she took a knife and cut off its arms and legs one by one. She cited this as her first ever sculptural solution and said that the resulting sense of satisfaction was a major driving force behind all her subsequent works of art. She often stressed that sculpture allowed her to relive the past and come to terms with it.

Although Louise Bourgeois began producing sculpture at an early age, she was around 70 before she achieved renown. After that, she had major exhibitions in top venues like Tate Modern and the Centre Pompidou and represented America at the 1993 Venice Biennale. Her vast bronze spiders became world-famous and one of them will be on display this September in the pond in front of the Gemeentemuseum.

Hans Bellmer was born in Katowice (now Poland) in 1902. His father ruled the family with an iron fist and Bellmer was driven to produce his artworks by his powerlessness in the face of his father’s authoritarianism (his first doll had to be made in secret). Eventually, he turned not only against his father, but also against the rationalism and National Socialism of the society in which he lived. Bellmer’s work sits firmly within the Surrealist tradition, in which the influence of the subconscious mind and sexual urges is very great.

The work is characterised by a search for identity, an exploration of relations between the sexes and a fascination with the human body and the possibilities of sculpting it. By melding male and female, experimenting with the merging of sexual identities in dolls, photographs and drawings, Bellmer undermines the conventional balance of power between the sexes.

The exhibition will be accompanied by a lavishly illustrated catalogue containing contributions from eminent figures such as Elfriede Jelinek and Henry Miller (Ludion, price € 34.95 from the museum shop, € 39.95 elsewhere).

Image: Louise Bourgeois Gemeentemuseum Den Haag

The Gemeentemuseum Den Haag employs around 145 people directly and many others indirectly, through the work it subcontracts to various companies. In 1999 the museum was privatised and it is now run by a Foundation (Stichting) headed by the Director. A Supervisory Board checks that the museum is being properly managed and led. The museum organisation is divided into 4 sectors: Collections, Exhibitions, Communications and Management.

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