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Today I visited a place I never fail to find inspiring and peaceful – Heide Museum of Modern Art. Just down the Eastern Freeway in Bulleen, it’s at most a half-hour trip from most ‘burbs around Melbourne and a great half-day adventure. Situated on beautiful gardens filled with sculpture, Heide offers visitors the chance to see changing exhibits across three galleries (two of which are former residences of art patrons and legendary Australian bohemians John and Sunday Reed), enjoy the magnificent grounds and stop for a little repast at Shannon Bennett’s Cafe Vue. Today’s Ruby Assembly blog features the Louise Bourgeois: Late Works exhibit currently showing across two of the Heide galleries.

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Louise Bourgeois was a French-American artist who lived an adventurous life till the grand old age of 99. Widely regarded as the founder of ‘confessional’ artwork (a la Tracey Emin – their shared collaboration is also part of the retrospective on-show at Heide), Bourgeois’ work focuses on several themes including femme-maison (the woman as house) and the mother. There’s lots of sewn materials brought together in a ‘mend and make-do’ way in her creations. The first pieces at the exhibit are large-scale hanging sculptures of humanoid figures, made from domestic materials like waffle cotton pieced together. They are headless, suspended from the ceiling like hung meat and executed in dark materials. I found them saddening.

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This first room also featured beautiful ‘heads’ built from domestic tapestry materials sourced from the artist’s’ environment. The head above looks almost like a skull bare of skin and detailed with muscles and nerves, courtesy of the richly colored material in the tapestry.

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As one of Mother Ruby Assembly’s friends mentioned prior our visiting this retrospective, there are lots of fannies in Bourgeois’ work. And why not? There’s nothing wrong with a fanny in our opinion, especially when it comes to trailblazing feminist art. Bourgeois’ work features motifs of sewing needles (typified as reparative/restorative rather than destructive), scissors, pregnant bodies, soft material torsos embedded with shiny kitchenalia. I found this cloud-white, soft torso with house/womb the most hopeful of the figure presented in the exhibit – here it is for your viewing pleasure (sneakily taken on the sly with my iPhone, excuse the quality).

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Bourgeois’s relationship with her mother features heavily in the retrospective – represented by a looming metal spider protecting a cage with a ‘mother’s chair’ resting inside. Although frightening and primeval, Bourgeois saw the spider as a creature that was protective, productive, kindly yet cunning. Motherly, in a way.

‘Maman’ – a giant spider on London’s Southbank as part of Bougeois’ 2007 retrospective. Scary, innit?

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Heide is also showing an Albert Tucker exhibit in the main gallery housing Bourgeois’ large pieces. I particularly liked this Tucker painting, depicting a ghoulish-looking London double-decker bus looming out of the darkness. For better or worse, it reminded me of a Harry Potter film (the one with the shrunken head talking to Harry as he was shunted throughout London at night).

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Taking a breather on John and Sunday’s couch at Heide 2.

Heide 2 (the modern home of John and Sunday Reed, all low wood-panelled roofs and beautiful stone walls) continued the Bourgeois exhibit with an array of the artist’s work on show, in addition to works by Australian artists inspired by her work. These works included beautifully delicate watercolor and pen-and-ink pictures by Del Kathryn Barton (below) which had some fellow-visitors sniggering between their fingers. There was no sniggering from yours truly however – Barton continues to be one of my favorite contemporary Australian artists.

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My brief education in Louise Bourgeois’ work at Heide was a Saturday morning well-spent, finished off with a stroll to Heide 1 (the original farmhouse residence of the Reeds), which housed a Sidney Nolan collection and some works in response by Narelle Jubelin. I left Heide with much Wikipedia-ing to do on the artist herself, intrigued by Bourgeois’ transatlantic, adventuresome life and energetic, loving, darkly foreboding body of work.

Louise Bourgeois: Late Works will be on display at Heide until March 11, 2013.


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