Maisons Fragiles

Delicate forms and fragile relationships are the predominant leitmotif within the stark exhibition halls of Hauser & Wirth London. ‘Maisons Fragiles’ introduces an exhibition that explores fragility as a transient yet malleable subject by using the perspective of artists whose work stretches over six decades. The international gallery presents artwork by Louise Bourgeois, Eva Hesse and Richard Serra, amongst others, promising visitors a display of strong proportional aesthetic which reinforces the pioneers of conceptual abstraction within art history.

With only one photographic print in the exhibition, the show is predominantly sculpture-based. Each artist uses playful and often provocative techniques to build tension between the work and the viewer. Every work reveals elements of a teasing sensory engagement: boundaries are pushed between the sculptures untouched frailty and the possibility of its assault, leaving it crumbling and broken – then, becoming a new artwork of differing materiality.

This quandary is particularly evident in both Fausto Melotti and Louise Bourgeois’ sculptures. Melotti’s ‘I lavandai (The Launderers)’ is formed from a skeletal gold-brass frame adorned by earthy-coloured sheets of mesh which lend the impression of being thin as tissue paper. The mesh is crumpled yet appears stable, elegantly hanging from the solid brass structure; but still the work seems brittle due to its transparent, delicate nature. Bourgeois invites visitors to comprehend her piece ‘Maisons Fragiles’ – where the exhibition finds its name – as a temporary architectural composition. The towering long legs of the steel sculpture are reminiscent of Bourgeois’ ‘Spider’ (1996), another piece which stands high above gallery goers, teetering on precariously balanced limbs. The perceived instability of ‘Maisons Fragiles’ is actually an illusion considering the work is made of steel, a tough iron alloy. Rather, the work’s fragility comes from Bourgeois’ conceptual ideas about the house being one of solitude and emptiness in reference to the artist’s own youth.

Alexander Calder brings an innovative aesthetic to the exhibition with his ‘Untitled’ balancing mobile. With several spotlights focusing on the kinetic sculpture, ‘Untitled’ casts a range of moving shadows on the walls, liberating the work from its individual capacity as an object. It’s height, like that of Bourgeois and Melotti’s, distances visitors from the precisely balanced artwork. This once again brings about themes of vulnerability and protection in the exhibition, calling out senses that evoke a desire to touch the work despite a deeply routed tradition in sculpture to never do so. Obstacles come to the fore in Robert Gober’s ‘Untitled (Bent Door)’, where we see a playfully abstracted door folded by ninety degrees facing the floor. Here the process of rendering the door functionless arouses feelings of, of course, the uncanny, while simultaneously provoking a sense of instability through the balance of the door on the floor.

The second room of the exhibition hosts a smaller number of works which parallel each other through certain nuances. Roni Horn’s ‘Two Pink Tons’ comprise jelly-like slabs of solid cast pink glass that present the viewer with a catalogue of inconsistencies. Horn juxtaposes liquid with solid by giving the sculpture the appearance of being mouldable and soft with use of reflective surfaces and rounded edges. Mirrored in each work is Richard Serra’s steel triangle ‘Untitled’. Vast on the central wall of the space, this work looks simple and light. Upon closer inspection Serra’s sculpture is heavy and thick with markings bruising its body; a perfectly symmetrical shape which maintains a transient changing state through its rusting exterior. Finally Eva Hesse’s works ‘Inside I’ and ‘Inside II’ rest subtly beside Serra’s proportional wall piece on a white museum table. The two cubes venture into similar conceptual themes as Bourgeois’ ‘Maisons Fragiles’, considering confinement within a domestic household. Adopting an appearance of rough, raw concrete, the work is actually made of fragile papier-mâché painted grey. The twin nature of this work parallels Horn and Bourgeois’ sculptures, both of which come in pairs.

‘Maisons Fragiles’ initiates a sculptural probing of materiality formed by the works of nine trailblazing artists who span over sixty years of practice. Hauser & Wirth’s fragile yet powerful display, ‘Maisons Fragiles’, is a striking manipulation of sculptural form not to be missed.

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