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Louise Bourgeois. Triptychforthe Red Room 1994. Aquatint, drypoint, and engraving on Hahnemule paper, printed by Harlan & Weaver Intaglio, New York. Top: 27/4" x 32'4"; center: 27%/4" x 42"; bottom: 27/4" x 37'/2". Published by Peter Blum Editions, New York. 38 U PERFORMING ARTS JOURNAL 48 LOUISE BOURGEOIS The Art ofMemory Larry Qualls The Red Room-Parents (1994) and The Red Room-Child (1994) An Installation by Louise Bourgeois at Peter Blum, New York The Red Rooms are loaded with eroticism. Red is the color of blood. Red is the color of pain. Red is the color of violence. Red is the color of danger. Red is the color of blushing. Red is the color of jealousy. Red is the color of reproaches. Red is the color of retention. Red is the color of resentments. Louise Bourgeois ouise Bourgeois has been alive nearly all of this century, but her popular success has come only in the last decade. Her lack of a signature style, her constant spiralling back to earlier forms and her combination ofself-created works with ready-mades, was long seen as a "problem." How could one value her work, with its evident psychological, social, and intensely sexual feelings, when it seemed to take so many forms? There was no one authentic language. She was neither Apollonian nor Dionysian, neither a true ego-inspired Duchampian conceptualist nor an id-dominated Pollockian expressionist. But Bourgeois long ago seems to have understood that there are many languages, that there is no one truth, and indeed that individual truth does not reside in a single work of art or in the mental state of its creator. Her art process involves the joining of disparate, sometimes jarringly, clashing elements and feelings in the individual constituent pieces, whether found or made, to create something that seems to transcend the conditions of their creation and of the psyche oftheir creator. The works are intensely personal, sometimes wrenchingly U 39 Louise Bourgeois in The Red Room-Parents. Photo: Courtesy of Peter Blum, New York. 40 U PERFORMING ARTS JOURNAL 48 so, and yet they speak to the mystery at the heart of existence in the way that the religious art of ancient Greece (before it was dematerialized by the aesthetic "appreciators" ofthe bourgeois era) or the Middle Ages addressed the transpersonal directly. Often there are sentimental aspects to her work, this in an age when sentiment is derided as inauthentic; yet this is often allied with caustically perverse elements. Easy definitions, reassuring political statements, do not adhere in her explorations of sexual relations and female sexuality. Male critics for long were troubled by her overt sexuality, by her portraits in acid of betrayal, revenge, humiliation, and repression, often by some sort of father figure. And though she was taken up by feminist critics at one point, her art has been troubling to them as well, since it is not immediately categorizable, in the ways of works by younger artists such as Kiki Smith or Sue Williams or the various popular performers of the past few years. Her work cannot be defined and hence immediately absorbed. Louise Bourgeois is not a victim. Bourgeois's work has often been accused of being theatrical, particularly by male art critics, generally without further explanation. These critics want to dismiss what they find troubling by seeming to find contamination from another medium, one less pure than their own. In theatre criticism, too, "theatrical" has taken on a negative meaning, as something less than authentic, because it in some sense involves artifice, or heightened emotion, as a mediator. Yet Bourgeois, in exploring the nature of creativity, of life, has utilized just these excessive emotional outpourings to present her ambivalence about all aspects of existence, including her own. She is pulled between opposites; it is balance she seeks in her art, an equilibrium that will enable the individual to function as a part ofa social order. It is not the triumph of the individual will, the ego above all, that she expresses, but the attempt to integrate the personal experience in the mystery of life. Her work is not about answers; if anything it about trying to stave...


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