Structures of Existence

The crisp and fresh Scandinavian air of Humlebæk feels slightly wilder to that of the busy breeze back in Copenhagen. Twenty-five miles north of Denmark’s capital, day-trippers hankering after a fill of modern art will find it in the form of the Louisiana Museum. The sublime gallery transcends typical museum standards by refashioning its surrounding landscape to present a unique sculpture garden that outlines a rousing example of modern architecture. With wild woodlands, the Øresund Strait and Sweden’s coastline skirting the gallery’s panorama, the Louisiana Museum is quite literally a neck of the woods you’ll want to get lost in.

Accompanying the monumental range of outdoor sculptures that include work by artists Alexander Calder, Henry Moore and Richard Serra, is the gallery’s permanent collection and the temporary exhibit of Louise Bourgeois’s Structures of Existence: The Cells. Today’s art circles recognise Bourgeois as an artist exhibited manifold all over the world, yet of the many occasions I have observed the prolific artist’s practice the Louisiana’s interpretation of it stands most provocative to date.

A pulsating grip tightens and narrows the darkened corridor leading to Bourgeois initial display of Cells. Her deeply private Structures of Existence pinch sections of the gallery, and present to visitors bordered-up domestic spaces that can’t quite be entered. Bourgeois sets strict limitations on how well voyeurs can deliver their gaze onto her and her artistic output in the world. Reserved, close-to-one’s-chest objects decorate the interior of these cells. Some treasures are attached to each another by barely-there threads, some are reflected in one another by illuminated mirrors; the connections are comprehensive and labyrinthine.

‘The late and great’ Cells were imagined when Bourgeois was in her late 70s and are expectedly interpreted as reflections of her turbulent personal history. The walls forming each encasement breathe a past life, found by the artist in abandoned factories around New York City. These behave as yet another symbol of memory in her large-scale installations, providing an intimate connection between past and present. This toying of recollection and the idea of the familiar is something that Bourgeois continuously half-liberates and half-cloaks to and from witnesses of her work, forcing a curious demeanor on those visiting the exhibition.

In addition to Bourgeois’s obscure panopticon’s, the Louisiana Museum has obtained a range of paintings, drawings, and sculptures to bring together the totality of her practice. Scrawling’s of deep thoughts read throughout the exhibition space; notes like “I distance myself from myself” and “I give everything away” confront visitors with pain-ridden personal conundrums. The use of red streaks and plush pinks are representative of the female form, morphing to a jarring set of abstract portraiture when labeled with her melancholic prose. These paintings strongly reflect on the importance of femininity in Bourgeois work, deducing to her use of spider forms in much of her work. These arachnids represent a symbol of motherhood and familial care for Bourgeois, unlike the unnerving fear that these creatures so often cause when discovered in the everyday.

The surreal and uncanny work of Louise Bourgeois has been expertly displayed at the Louisiana Museum of Modern Art this season. With familiar work alongside lesser-known elements of her practice, the gallery has provided the public with a curious and engaging insight into how and why Bourgeois arrived at her Cell series.

Structures of Existence: The Cells is on display at the Louisiana Museum of Modern Art until the 26 February 2017.