Louise Bourgeois’ River Life at Hauser & Wirth

Louise Bourgeois, “La Rivière Gentille.” 2007. Mixed media on paper. Courtesy Hauser & Wirth Zurich.

Opening this Saturday at Hauser & Wirth Zurich is an exhibition of Louise Bourgeois’ (Season 1) beautiful series on paper La Rivière Gentille (2007). Occupying three tiers around the gallery, the 42 medium-scaled mixed media sheets interweave imagery and phrases from a text the artist wrote in the mid 1960’s. Using a continuous palette of blue, red, and black, the series contemplates Bourgeois’ childhood in France, where life was always lived by a river. From the Creuse in Aubusson, to the Seine in Choisy-le-Roi, to the Bièvre in Antony, the river played a primary role in her childhood. The water recounts memories of a planted garden by the river’s bank to dyed skeins hanging from the trees, the latter a reference to the family’s business of tapestry restoration, which required the water’s high tannin level.

Like all of Bourgeois’ imagery, there is a contradiction of appearances and meaning. Water can be life-giving as well as destructive. It is also a metaphor for the unbroken thread weaving past and present, revealing “moments of ecstasy, vivid incidents and dark passages… dwelling upon sensate experience – the physical world of things and the pleasure they bring – whilst summoning the inexorable, onward flow of existence.”