The current Mocca presentation juxtaposes two powerful sculptors whose work prompts comparison and thought. Louise Bourgeois, iconic to the struggle for gender equality, is presented in retrospect by works from the National Gallery and her estate. The works dip into her oeuvre stretching from her Personages (1950’s) to her final Cell, The Last Climb (2008). David Armstrong Six presents sculptures created during a recent Berlin residency, curated by David Liss and Jonathan Shaughnessy.
The most striking similarities between the two artists are their vertical sculptures, Bourgeois’ Personages and Armstrong Six’ character types, using materials drawn from detritus. Bourgeois created these works 60 years ago in a vastly different artistic milieu, while Armstrong Six has the emotional advantage of looking back in time.
Louise Bourgeois came to NY in 1938 in a wave of artist refugees, including many important Surreal/Dadaist artists like Max Ernst and Marcel Duchamp. Carl Jung had already postulated the ‘collective unconscious’, a ‘region’ hidden from our conscious experience. Creative people channel cultural archetypes: a hallmark of Surrealism.
Bourgeois struggled to register herself artistically in the NY gallery scene, only receiving due recognition in the 80’s with a retrospective at MOMA. In hindsight, the reason for this was the Cold War and the promotion of Abstract Expressionism by the CIA as an American phenomenon to counter an imagined Communist threat. Thus critics of the day disregarded Surrealist exhibitions and embraced the new, masculine modernism. It was only after Minimalism had run it’s course that the public imagination could embrace Bourgeois’ unique feminine contribution.
Emotion is the key to her work. She has stated that all her work is autobiographical and often refers to traumatic memories. Sexuality and exposing the unconscious are surrealistically embodied in her work. Feelings like anger and jealousy are referenced with nails hammered obsessively into sections. The Personages are carved pieces of driftwood or remnants of home renovations that stand with fragility on their points. She does not embellish them so much as take action upon their surface, recognizing the final result as a particular archetype, perhaps a knife woman or a totemic mother image.
A later group of works in the retrospective, titled Echoes, began as her garments, stitched together and stretched upward, cast in bronze, then perversely, painted white. These beautiful forms seem to take on the organic aspects of sexual organs or hidden folds.
The centerpiece in this exhibition is the last Cell (The Final Climb) featuring her salvaged Brooklyn studio fire escape enclosed within a mesh structure. Two big carved wooden balls rest on the floor while blue glass orbs suspended on the cage encourage a celestial ascent. Cotton reels on the sides extend fine threads to a central point, representing memories of people.
David Armstrong Six sees a manifestation of all the art movements like Cubism, through to abjection in his work. These quirky assemblages reference archetypes like The Janitor or The Solicitor. The viewer is invited into a construction zone that feels like a quantum expression. David Bohm, the quantum physicist, developed a way out of the particle / wave dilemma by asserting that there is a wholeness to experience / reality and it comprises the sum of all possibilities, the implicate order, which is lodged non-locally (i.e. without space and time). What we experience as reality is the explicate order, which masks the implicate order. Although the language differs, there is a connection to Jung’s collective unconscious.
Armstrong Six and Bourgeois have the same modus operandi. They share an interest in abjection or the use of cast off materials. She buries herself emotionally in her raw material while he locates himself in the raw material studio environment, allowing a flow of non-art accretion that coagulates into suggestive form. A polystyrene block becomes a ‘concrete’ form conveying stability and strength. Flies that invade the wet paint remain embedded. Wood and metal pipes defy their normal material constraints to follow the artist’s whim.
At a deep level, our society has to embrace a fresh way of interpreting reality. We need to realize the connectedness of all things and that we project a collective vision of reality that is illusory. Louise Bourgeois and David Armstrong Six seem to understand this, opening channels of thought to new formations.
June 22—August 11, 2013