Critics’ Picks

Louise Bourgeois, Passage Dangereux (Dangerous Passage, detail), 1997, metal, wood, tapestry, rubber, marble, steel, glass, bronze, bones, flax, and mirrors, dimensions variable.

Louise Bourgeois, Passage Dangereux (Dangerous Passage, detail), 1997, metal, wood, tapestry, rubber, marble, steel, glass, bronze, bones, flax, and mirrors, dimensions variable.

New York

Louise Bourgeois

The Jewish Museum
1109 Fifth Avenue
May 21–September 12, 2021

Louise Bourgeois’s approach to art not only aligned with psychoanalysis but marshaled it. The exhibition here highlights her commitment to confronting emotional wounds via the unconscious, locating repressed traumas and fantasies through Freudian free association and interpretation. Bourgeois underwent analysis with a former disciple of Freud’s for more than three decades, starting in 1952. As a complementary exercise, she recorded her dreams and process notes: sometimes typewritten on sheets of loose-leaf in a mélange of French and English, sometimes handwritten in pencil on graph paper or on letterhead from the Yale Registry for Nurses. Fury and bitterness are recurrent and commanding themes. “One worry or another will always fill my days,” she lamented in 1952. In 1964, she wondered, “How many hells do I have in my name to count them and to differentiate one from the other.”

Although she privileged art, writing functioned as an important conduit for Bourgeois’s Oedipally tinged fixations on her father and manifesting feminist exhaustion. Her texts, on view here in both original and facsimile forms, explore the fragility she felt as an artist, as well as the relentless tug of the family struggles she weathered as a middle daughter and a mother to three sons. These musings are accompanied by forty-seven of the artist’s works. One multishelf vitrine contains an assembly of smaller sculptures, including the pink marble Femme Couteau (Knife Woman), 1969–70, and a three-headed female rendered in fabric Hysterical, 2001. The two large-scale installations on view are as chilling as they are spectacular: The Destruction of the Father, 1974, is a visceral, recessed infernal den bathed in a Hadean red glow that upstages David Lynch in its nightmarishness, while Passage Dangereux (Dangerous Passage), 1997, is a sinister cage-cum-reliquary subdivided into six bays that are strewn with her father Louis’s shirt cuffs and furnished with, among other things, a wooden electric chair. Bourgeois harnesses the same fierce spirit on paper as she does in her formidable visual output: a direct if fragmented communion of despair and ambivalence that resonates with human vulnerability.