Curator on louise bourgeois: “attractive and uncanny at the same time”.

As a pioneer of installation art, Louise Bourgeois is a good fit for the Schinkel Pavillon, says artistic director Nina Pohl.

Exhibition view, Louise Bourgeois, The Empty House, Schinkel Pavillon Photo: Andrea Rossetti/Schinkel Pavillon

site: Ms. Pohl, what is most surprising about the Louise Bourgeois exhibition at the Schinkel Pavillon is the impression that the works were virtually made for the spaces. Both downstairs in the Schinkel Klause and upstairs in the pavilion. Did you anticipate that it would work so well?

Nina Pohl: Yes, absolutely. Every time I do an exhibition, I think about how the works will work in this eccentric GDR building. It was clear to me from the very beginning that I wanted to put one of Louise Bourgeois’ famous cells at the top of the glass octagon. The work "Peaux des lapins, chiffons ferrailles à vendre" that is there now is a kind of cage that fits perfectly into the pavilion. I found the effect of creating the impression of a cell within a cell interesting.

And what do you see in this cell?

There are chains, cloth and tulle bags hanging there that look like scraps of skin or bodily organs. Marble stones are piled on top of each other and look like a spine. These cells are considered emotional memory spaces and are the most complex works Louise Bourgeois created.

The Schinkel Klause was a well-known restaurant during the GDR era. Now it serves as an exhibition space. Why does Louise Bourgeois work here as well?

Perhaps it has to do with the color of the time. The artworks correspond seamlessly with the wall paintings and panels from back then. The contents of the glass display cases are a continuation of Bourgeois’ exploration of birth and death, consciousness and the subconscious, architecture and the organic. And then there are other fragile sculptures on view in the old, rundown kitchen spaces of the former Schinkel Klause, such as one of her famous spiders. The entire installation feels like a chamber of horrors, attractive and eerie at the same time.

Louise Bourgeois died in 2010 at the age of 98. What makes it interesting to exhibit her work today?

Louise Bourgeois is considered a leading figure of feminist art. And feminist themes are currently being renegotiated by a young generation of artists. So it seemed important to me to present her as a pioneer of installation art. Installation was, after all, a medium with which women artists subverted the familiar expectations of the sculptural work, which was always conceived as masculine. However, it took time for this to catch on in the art world. As is well known, Louise Bourgeois only had her first major exhibition at the tender age of 80, which immediately made her internationally famous. By the time she was 90, she was an icon.

"Louise Bourgeois. The Empty House," runs through July 29 at the Schinkel Pavillon, Berlin. The Kunstverein, directed by artist Nina Pohl, sees itself as a platform for promoting contemporary sculpture, installation and media art. The name of the exhibition venue derives from its location, the pavilion built in 1969 by architect Richard Paulick in the park of the Kronprinzenpalais.

But you never saw yourself as a feminist artist, did you?

Yes, that’s true. Louise Bourgeois believed that the themes expressed in her work were gender-insensitive. But every object in the exhibition has a symbolic character: after all, Louise Bourgeois made a psychoanalysis for 30 years. Sigmund Freud is part of her work.

How does an art association like the Schinkel Pavillon manage to organize an exhibition with works by Louise Bourgeois?

Although the Schinkel Pavillon is a small exhibition house, it has acquired an international reputation in recent years. Since the works of Louise Bourgeois are otherwise only seen in sterile large museums, our exhibition concept in our historic rooms was something completely new. This concept also excited the president of the Louise Bourgeois Estate.

But there remains the question of insurance costs, guarantees for works of art. How did the Kunstverein manage that?

Yes, that’s right. The security requirements were immense at Louise Bourgeois. We had never seen it like that before. The lenders required months of climate monitoring, condition reports, restorers and couriers to travel with the works. The loan contracts and security requirements required above all persuasion and negotiating skills. Somehow we managed it all and are now very proud to be showing this exhibition in Berlin.

The current and highly acclaimed film "Moments" by Agnès Varda has just been released in cinemas. Varda turned 90 this week. Her desire to continue working, unbroken in her old age, reminds me of Louise Bourgeois, but so does her appearance. Don’t the two of them stand paradigmatically for the female artist, whose artistic potency lasts longer than that of men?

Yes, both women indeed share the unbroken desire to simply keep on working. Many people are still productive in old age, women as well as men. Louise Bourgeois’ career is so unprecedented because, without even being noticed by the art market, she nevertheless worked unflinchingly for decades.

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