Cold Calling Louise Bourgeois

She might be listed.

The phone books were stashed under my studio chair. I flipped open the whitepages and dragged my finger through the B’s until I found it. Ha! I picked up the phone, took a deep breath and cross checked the number before dialing.

Shortly after college I went through an inspired cold call phase.

A few rings.

“Hello?” a woman’s voice answered.

The calls were like rites of passage for me. Exercises in bravery. Proof to myself that doors were meant to be passed through.

“Hello…my name is Alexandra Posen, and I am…um…trying to reach the studio of Louise Bourgeois?”

Not daring to believe, I continued, “do I have the right number?”

“This is Louise” an understated voice replied.

My eyes roamed from sculpture to sculpture in my small studio, trying to ground this moment in reality.

“Ms. Bourgeois, I admire your work very much. I am a young artist, and I was wondering…”

“Yes?”

I could hear the age and accent now.

“I was wondering if it might be possible to meet you-”

Before I had a chance to fumble through my ill formed request (I hadn’t gotten this far in my mind), Louise abruptly interrupted me.

“Call back Sunday morning.”

“Ok….I will call you back on Sunday. Uh…thank you so much.”

“Good. Good bye.”

Click.

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It took me a few anxiety ridden moments to process the fact that I had just picked up the phone and made direct contact with a mythical art hero. A few more moments to decide if the call was a good one or a bad one. She sounded a little scary.  Had I disturbed her? Did she like me? What was the meaning of calling back on Sunday?

Like so much in my life, then and now, my love of artist Louise Bourgeois and my impulse to call her was largely based on instinct.

Had I done diligent homework, I might have been savvy to the fact that she routinely held a Sunday Soiree in her living room.

Thursday to Sunday felt like an eternity. The second call was infinitely harder to make. I remembered my shyness.

The call however, was successful, and I when hung up, I had a time and a place to meet. I also had a vague idea that there would be other visitors, and certainty that a great adventure lay ahead of me.

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Here is the rub: I remember very few concrete details of that special Sunday afternoon.

I do remember the room. How it smelled like dry wood and New York. How Louise sat imperiously behind an indutrial desk as master of ceremonies. How four or five of us sat in chairs and benches along the peripheries of the dim room. How she ate jam from a jar. How one of the guests was a famous curator. How a small man did an expressive dance improvisation in the middle of the room. How nervous I was.

And with much effort and some cringing I have recalled how at my turn, I presented a show and tell. I spoke about puppetry, masks and the art I was making. I shared images from the installation that I was working on at the time- a piece called “The Diary of the Inbetween”.

I remember that Louise looked looked deeply, carefully, and then moved on to the next guest. It was a guy around my age- and all that I can remember about him, is that we shared a falafel afterward and kissed underneath the yellow glow of a West Village lamp post.

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Detail from “The Diary of the Inbetween”, Alexandra Posen, 1998

My twenties were a maelstrom of passion, insecurity and creative seeking.  Memories from that time are a blur of essences only. Even my few hours in the living room of Louise Bourgeois, are obscured by the emotional weather of my young heart and imagination.

I wish I remembered more. Like who that curator was.

But it is ok. Bourgeois dwelled in that foggy space too. She honored the atmospheric nature of emotions, and welcomed messy contradictions and obscurity. In fact, I cannot think of another artist who so firmly grasps the substance of metaphor. Not to mention the abstraction of memory…

As a painter, sculptor, printmaker, and installation artist, she tackled the subconscious intelligence with unique integrity. She worked till the end of her life wrestling potent themes such as sexuality, corporeality, death and the parent child relationship.

Nearly twenty years ago, I followed an adventurous whim and made a pilgrimage to see the queen mother of art. I was, of course, in part, seeking her approval and love. I am not sure that I got it. Then again, I am not sure that I didn’t.

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Detail from “The Diary of the Inbetween” , Alexandra Posen, 1998

CREATIVE EXERCISE:

This is a drawing and exercise designed in 2002 by Louise Bourgeois, for DO IT: The Compendium, by Hans Obrist.  

  1. When you are walking, try smiling at a stranger.

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Further reading:

DO IT: the compendium by Hans Ulrich Obrist The Do It book contains artworks by more than 100 international artists in the form of do-it-yourself text instructions to be completed by the reader. Based on the traveling exhibition and e-flux online project curated by Hans Ulrich Obrist, the book also includes a selection of essays and interviews, and offers comprehensive material on the groundbreaking show.

 

Louise Bourgeois: The Spider and The Tapestries. Bourgeois’ recurring motif of the spider symbolizes her mother, a weaver, and fully explores the complex relationship between mother and child.  Her 

Author: Alex Posen

Alex Posen is an artist, writer, designer and veteran creative director. She writes and speaks about creativity, and is available for workshops, private coaching and consulting.