Friday, February 9, 2007

Louise Bourgeois Eats A Truffle, David Waddell discusses the Artist's Salon

I read about Louise Bourgeois’s Sunday Salon in the June ’06 ArtNews. I was excited by the thought of a salon. Salon is romanticized. Art students desire to emulate the aura of Paris, the Dada movement, Surrealism and de Kooning’s drinking days at the Tavern. This seemed like a worthwhile trip. The salon was touted as being an opportunity for feedback from art royalty.

My anticipation differed from my experience. I question the positioning and morality of how the salon is currently run. The salon has been in session for 30 years, since Bourgeois was 64. The woman I hold in contention is the documentary filmmaker, Pouran Esrafily. She has been filming the salon for the past 12 years, since Bourgeois was 82 years old. Pouran quickly volunteered her own name without me catching it; rather I figured it out through reading Devine’s article.

The experience was not an adventure into the art giant’s world but a painful visit to grandma’s house… a reminder of the fragility of life and the diminishing of a powerhouse and a force in her prime. For what purpose does this salon still exist? I question the choice of people who surround this aging artist in her final days. These issues must be examined. ArtNews was descriptively accurate without tackling the issues of control and critique of the salon. It could be that on the day I was present, Ersafily was running the show rather than Jerry Gorovoy, who facilitated during Devine’s visit.

We wait for Bourgeois to enter the room. A muffled noise comes from the other room. It is Louise small voice. Pouran Esrafily demands that we sit. She requests that we act delighted to see Bourgeois. We should not glare as Bourgeois maneuvers with her walker through the room. Everyone holds her breath until the grand act of walking and then sitting is a success.

Bourgeois’s wardrobe resembles the black-and-white animation of Steamboat Willie whistling while steering the steamboat. Bourgeois’s ensemble includes a white silk shirt, and black slip/shorts with suspenders constructed out of yarn. I might have imagined two white large buttons where the pants meet the suspenders.

Once situated, each artist was to present their work in the designated area that would frame Louise Bourgeois appearing to view artwork. Then the work is turned to Esrafily’s camera. Louise Bourgeois’ has three phrases, “Yes, yes.” “I see.” and “Verrry goot.” When asked a direct question, she would shake her head no, and say, “I don’t remember” or “I don’t know them.”

Ersafily was very demanding as how to approach and engage Louise. A generous curator came with a box of truffles as a gift. Ersafily insists that she would not indulge in even a single piece. We should open the gift before Bourgeois arrives. I wanted to place a bet on this act of eating a truffle. Bourgeois eats the truffle and proves Ersafily wrong.

What does Bourgeois want? She wanted a truffle. But, does she enjoy the presence of strangers in her house? Or is this what Esrafily wants? Like any family, there are protective members who are in denial about a loved one aging. These same people often oppose a certain individual’s management over the elderly. In this instance, I am the grandchild who does not get a sincere vibe from Ersafily. But, I could have been rubbed the wrong way.

Bourgeois is certainly present and conscious. She had strong opinions about her environment. Bourgeois’s most vocal point of the day is when she insists that the living room doors are shut and barred from the outside. It was an important and urgent request. People volunteer to close the door, but Ersafily quickly notes that she is the only one who knows how to properly seal the door shut. Later, Bourgeois complains about light. A small desk lamp facing a wall is the only source of light. But it is too bright for her.

I am sure she would indicate if she did not want to receive guests. But does she want to look at work? She would glance, and then doze. She had a peaceful presence. However, there was no true critique from her. There was thoughtful discussion among the twelve artists in the room. The salon could have been held elsewhere.

Ersafily was demeaning towards women her own age. She announced that Louise was excited about young artists. Ersafily decides the pecking line. The older women suspiciously went last. And contrary to Ersafily’s remarks, Bourgeois perks up to listen to these women.

Ersafily also disregarded those with curatorial powers. An ex-curator from the Brooklyn museum insisted that an ICA.Boston curator speak. Ersafily begrudgingly allows the woman to have a few words.

Louise Bourgeois is a device in this situation. Ersafily could be riding her famed coattails to promote her documentary. She clearly feels threatened by those that she perceives to be in the know and hopes that her own status can be elevated through association with Bourgeois for a younger generation. I recommend reading Robert Storr’s biography that will be released in the future rather than watching this documentary.

I signed a release form which I regret. And I felt awful after I left. The same kind of awful feeling when you leave a retirement community and you pass by the intensive care unit.

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