Thursday, July 11, 2013

Loop’s Summer Correspondent Sarah Letovsky visits MOCCA

Louise Bourgeois, Cell (The Last Climb), 2008 National Gallery of Canada, Ottawa. © Louise Bourgeois Trust. Photo © National Gallery of Canada

Summer Programming at MOCCA

Sarah Letovsky


As my final gallery review for loop’s blog, I chose MOCCA - the Museum of Contemporary Canadian Art, a public hotspot for contemporary art in Toronto.  It’s pay what you can, and located right in the heart of Queen West, making it the perfect place to drop in and see some art when you’re in the mood. Summer can often be a slower season for art, but MOCCA’s current shows are some of the most exciting that I’ve seen this year: a retrospective of Louise Bourgeois visiting from the National Gallery, “Three Known Points” by David Armstrong Six, and “Dancing with Che: Enter Through the Gift Shop” by Barbara Astman.

Astman’s work is a collection of Che-related paraphernalia displayed in a gift shop setting, as if they were retail objects: postcards, t-shirts, tote bags - all with Che’s image on them. They have all the familiarity of tchotchkes but keep their distance as objects for contemplation rather than consumption. “Dancing with Che” is an intriguing comment on the commercialization of political figures and re-appropriation of cultural icons. David Armstrong Six’s “Three Known Points” is also an interesting exhibition; a collection of dynamic, freestanding sculptures each named after various vocations - The Changling, The Janitor, The Mole - all created by the Montreal artist during a 2012 residency in Berlin.

Barbara Astman, Dancing with Che: Enter Through The Gift Shop (detail), 2011. Courtesy of the Corkin Gallery. Photo: Jennifer Rose Sciarrino
What I’ve really come to see, though, is “Louise Bourgeois 1911-2010”. It’s a hard enough task trying to create a retrospective for an artist that has had such a prolific and influential career - but MOCCA has done an excellent job in borrowing work from the National Gallery for a show that both encompasses the breadth of her work, and also the emotional framework that Bourgeois was operating under after leaving her family and friends in Europe and moving to New York in the late thirties. It’s a mixed show, as was Bourgeois’ career, but artfully chosen; a collection of organic, elegant ink drawings from the 1950s, gouache paintings from 2007, a large sculpture created from a staircase rescued from her Brooklyn studio.

The selection of work exhibits Bourgeois’ trademark sexual overtones as well as the artist’s not-so-subtle references to female genetalia. A group of sculptures from her Echo series (2007) are a particularly fitting example of this. They stand in one corner - large, voluptuous, bronze castings of her discarded clothing that have been painted a chalky white. But it’s really Bourgeois’ Personnages (1946-1955) that steal the show, a series of delicate statues punctuating the room like totems. Each is created from a different material or painted in a different colour, and they’re all unique and odd. Together they feel like a lonely crowd; the more you look at them, the more they become anthropomorphic, and seem to embody a spirit and their own personality. There’s a sense of melancholy and nostalgia to these Personnages, the sadness that comes from looking back on relationships and people you once knew and lost. 

The show focuses on work that reflected Bourgeois’ own feelings of loss and nostalgia; but the chosen works also capture a sense of peace, understanding, and finality. As a retrospective, it’s a fitting and poignant goodbye to a beloved artist.