In a recent New York Review, Sanford Schwartz has an essay on the Louise Bourgeois exhibition now heading for LA. I saw it at Tate Modern almost exactly a year ago, and I found my notes on my computer. I’ll put them below the fold, without pretending they’re anything like as intelligent as what Vance might write. But in case you’re interested.

The Louise Bourgeois exhibit at Tate Modern was most excellent. First, the curator had organized it in a primarily chronological way, introducing you to the themes that would run through Bourgeois’s work at an early phase — the paintings called Femme Maison, which show half-women half-houses, clearly playing on the discomfiting idea of the housewife. The first of these is called “Fallen Woman,” who has literally fallen, may have figuratively fallen, and may have fallen short of expectations. She is a head attached to something that looks like a wisp of cloud trailing off into the sky.

Then as the work grows more sculptural, this theme develops. Bodies, families, domesticity, taken apart and represented. She has a number of Brancusi-ish shapes, like that Brancusi that’s in MOMA, sort of organically thick in the middle but pointed at the ends; she repeats this through later work. She also creates shapes that may refer to body parts, but aren’t, and as she works in more plastic media, the sculpture becomes more organic. There are the shapes like breasts piled one on another, the shapes like penises in harness to one another that then look like breasts; lots of ambiguity of that nature. These shapes get repeated too.

The exhibit builds toward the “cells,” the enclosed standing installations, in which Bourgeois imprisons sculptures that represent something normally highly personal. Eyes and mirrors and spiders, which to her are about both threat and protection (see the giant Maman spider outside the Museum) abound.

Most impressive, though, are “Red Room (Parents)” and “Red Room (Child).” Both are bedrooms, built of wooden doors that surround and regulate the view of the contents. You can walk around the outside of the child’s bedroom looking through the cracks between the doors at pieces of the view, then you suddenly get to a window, as in an office door, the kind with the wire running through the glass to stop it shattering, and you can look through it a long time at the things–toys, spools of thread stitching into a fleshy shape–in the child’s room before you realize you are looking through a window that is stenciled “PRIVATE.”

Both bedrooms are built so you can only enter them indirectly, the child’s from the entrance to a spiral. Only one person can enter the child’s bedroom at a time; two can stand at openings to the parents’ bedroom. The parents’ room has a bright red, hard bed. The pillow is embroidered Je t’aime, in red. But in both bedrooms there are innumerable reminders of the tiny hurts in family relations, in the form of threaded needles stuck into various of those Brancusi shapes, needles that puncture but with their threads presumably they also mend.

A large glass droplet hangs over the parents’ bed, as if ready to fall; the curator has somewhat oddly suggested that it is a teardrop but it is a deep red, suggesting rather blood instead.

It’s quite possible the two bedrooms belong to different collectors, in which case one might easily see them separately and never get a sense of the family unit together.

Another, extremely large installation looks like a wine-aging vat, maybe two stories tall, on which stands the motto “Art is a guaranty of sanity.” Looking into it one sees again a bed. This one has no mattress, and its flat metal bottom opens out into a bathtub drain. Stacked on metal racks around it are glass containers of various sizes and shapes; the exhibit is titled “Precious Liquids.”

These are marvelous installations. They are also only appreciable in a museum; you couldn’t have them in a house, really.

There are also two samplers, near the end of the exhibit. One says, “Be Calm,” in a very agreeable pink and red motif. The other says, in blue, “I’ve been to Hell and back. Well, let me tell you, it was wonderful.”