`Femme' shows lighter, yet serious side of Bourgeois

CRITIC'S CORNER//art

Art Column

March 22, 2006|By GLENN MCNATT | GLENN MCNATT,SUN ART CRITIC

Contemporary sculptor Louise Bourgeois is 94 years old, but in Femme, her show of recent drawings and prints at Goya Contemporary Gallery, she represents herself as everything but: as a lithe, twentysomething straight out of Playboy magazine; as a tree, a light bulb, a lifeboat party; even as a wrinkled caterpillar's cocoon.

Almost all Bourgeois' work is based on her childhood experiences growing up in an emotionally repressed, genteelly dysfunctional family of French tapestry restorers during the 1920s and '30s.

Many of her pieces take the form of quirky self-portraits in which commonplace objects such as chairs, shoes, plants and flowers serve as stand-ins for the artist's own body.

The Goya show complements two other local Bourgeois exhibitions currently on view, one a career retrospective at the Walters Art Museum, the other a print show at the Contemporary Museum.

But unlike the Walters and Contemporary shows, each of which presents some provocative, if not downright disturbing examples of the artist's legendary penchant for putting her id on public display, the Goya show is a mostly lighthearted affair. Many of the pieces mimic the familiar, red-white-and-blue color scheme of Dr. Seuss illustrations, with their comforting illusion of innocence.

That does not make them any less serious in intent, however. Bourgeois' 1999 engraving Follow the Child Within You, for example, depicts five women of various ages, all of whom may represent the artist, aboard a lifeboat adrift at sea.

The boat has no oars, consequently its passengers have no control over where they are going. So they're all stuck there together, with only the small figure of a child in the prow to guide them. It's metaphor for the way Bourgeois has lived her life as an artist, but there's a bit of the rudderless wayfarer in most of us, too.

Sexual promiscuity has long been a theme of Bourgeois' art, an interest stemming largely from the domestic turmoil generated by her father's openly adulterous love affairs, which the artist witnessed as a child.

Yet Femme, the show's title work depicting a slender female form wearing nothing but a pair of black stockings and floor-length tresses, seems more celebration than denunciation of Freud's famous pleasure principle. It is a vision of the erotic as a form of play that seems as sweetly insouciant as a film by Truffaut.

The show runs through April 14. The gallery is at 3000 Chestnut Ave., Suite 210. Call 410-366-2001.

Colorful works

In other shows around town, David French's abstract-expressionist-style oil and aluminum pigment paintings are at Montage Gallery.

French works in rapid, broad brushstrokes with industrial colors in primary hues, giving his works the feel of commercial advertising without the instant legibility of its recognizable imagery.

French is a former student of Washington-based painter Sam Gilliam, and many of the works here suggest the older artist's influence, especially Gilliam's paisley color palette of the mid- to late 1980s, with its freely applied splashes of red, yellow and blue pigment on wood or metal panels.

In French's work, the aluminum pigment forms the silvery ground over which the other colors are painted, but the effect is similar to Gilliam even when the forms that emerge seem both simpler and more serene than those of his mentor.

The show runs through March 31. The gallery is at 925 S. Charles St. Call 410-752-1125.

`Hot Kilns, Cool Glass'

Across the street from Montage, Resurgam Gallery presents Hot Kilns, Cool Glass, a show of contemporary glass sculpture by Elizabeth O'Hara and Frances Aubrey.

Aubrey's small-scale abstract pieces are fashioned from ingeniously fused, slumped, cast and cold-worked glass that often incorporates figurative elements.

Her Homage to 9/11, in remembrance of the World Trade Center terrorist attacks, is a haunting evocation of the tragedy in which flame-colored glass streaks seem to lick at the faces of the victims.

By contrast, O'Hara's mixed-media clay and glass works, each consisting of a small glass panel mounted on a decorative clay support, seem more restrained and contemplative but no less ingeniously made.

The show runs through Sunday. The gallery is at 910 S. Charles St. Call 410-962-0513.

glenn.mcnatt@baltsun.com

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