Nick Hackworth

Louise Bourgeois at Hauser & Wirth

Essays & Reviews Evening Standard

At 94, Louise Bourgeois is without doubt the grandest grande dame of the art world. Her seven-decade career began in the art schools and studios — including that of Fernand Léger — of her native Paris.

Later she moved to New York where she made her mark as an abstract painter in the Forties before moving into the world of the sculptural. She prefigured today’s installation art by creating environments in which the viewer was physically and emotionally immersed in the work.

These physical and stylistic journeys, however, have all been subordinate to Bourgeois’s psychological exploration of herself, an ongoing investigation that has dominated her work.

Though less spectacular than other shows of her work, such as the towering, metal, spider-like forms that filled the Tate Modern’s Turbine Hall at its opening, this exhibition of new work presents the viewer with the essence of her artistic endeavour.

Sublimation is a 15-page story, told in scribbled text and coloured drawings of concentric circles and involved loops, of the narrator witnessing a couple arguing in front of a child. It records the intensity of the narrator’s painful empathy with the child.

Bourgeois has long been obsessed with her own childhood, during which her father cheated on her
mother with an English governess. The artist has said that her jealousy of that “hated intruder” moulded her as a person and an artist.

On the final page of Sublimation, she writes of her thankfulness at being able to sublimate her pain in her art, as exemplified by the two sculptures also on show, fluid, aluminium abstract forms that hang precariously from the ceiling, a metaphor for the fragility of individual psyches.

In Bourgeois’s art that sublimation works. But a thin line separates such work from self-obsessed self-indulgence, a line that sadly, so many artists of subsequent generations, have crossed.

Until 12 March. Information: 020 7287 2300