When the spring exhibits at the Wexner Center first opened I plugged them like crazy to everone I knew because
- Pippiloti Rist’s use of pink plastic, underwear and bathrooms appeals to my inner 12-year-old.
- After the nice but blah ‘Six Solos’ it’s nice to go into a gallery and get freaked the hell out again (thanks Natalie Djurberg)
- I love Louise Bourgeois. So much.
- I’d never heard about Hans Bellmer before but found his stuff just as weird as Bourgeois, and therefor just as appealing.
One coworker at the museum remarked “Oh, Bellmer- I remember his work being so…violent. Especially towards women. Is it?” This was the second time I’d heard this response, (the first was from several docents at a tour-brainstorming session) so I knew there was probably something to it, but what? Was it because his figures were female, torn-apart while he the artist was a man? Or was it something inherent in the images/objects themselves? I hadn’t had time to really look at and think about the pieces beyond “Weird! Yes!” but wanted to appear cultured and so said something eloquent like “Uh…hrm?”
Last Saturday, though, I was supposed to shadow a walk-in-tour that never happened and so finally had sometime to spend with the work. As my grasp on 20th century history is about as solid as the average 8th grader’s, and my knowledge of the artists themselves barely extends beyond the info plaques in the galleries, I was forced to rely on the work itself. Upon first look, the two bodies (har) of work are similar- Both artists’ work is grotesque but hypnotic. Both use a variety of ‘touchable’ media. Both show figures mutilated and mutated- but there is something about Bellmer’s work that feels more…obscene somehow.
Bourgeois’s figures, especially Fragile Goddess and several similar untitled pieces, are female, but identified as such only by the most basic anatomy. Their faces, if they have them, tend to be bald and androgenous. I look at them and my immediate thoughts are of soft, heavy things. Sad, broken (many featuring crutches or prosthetics) but sturdy.
Bellmer’s figures, on the other hand, are super femine*- Delicate features, flowing hair, big eyes- they’re almost pretty. At the same time they’re sprouting phallic-like legs and disjointed limbs, melting into puddles of confused anatomy. La Poupee (pictured above) is one in particular I’ve come back to several times and each time’s different- sometimes it feels like I’m taking advantage of her vulnerability, seeing her against her will. Other times it feels like she’s almost daring me to look- Not once, though, does the looking/seeing feel passive.
And maybe this awareness is what makes Bellmer’s work seem, if not necessarily violent, at least more visceral. I can’t help, too, letting what limited knowledge I have of the artist come to mind. I don’t know much about Bellmer, but I do know he was a man- would I feel less invasive/invaded looking at his work if he’d been a woman? Would I sympathize with Bourgeois’s godesses less if they’d been made by a man? And what if these same pieces were made with male figures, treated in the same way?**