Sensuality and “Double Sexus” at the Wexner

A look at the work of sculptor Louise Bourgeois

By Jud Yalkut

‘Janus Fleuri’: 1968. Bronze, gold patina. Photos courtesy of Christopher Burke & Allan Finkelman.

The Wexner Center for the Arts in Columbus has been known for linking together exhibitions that often share more than subliminal associations. In the current series running through July 31, a central focus is the work of sculptor Louise Bourgeois, who was the recipient of the Wexner Prize in 1999 and passed away last year at the age of 99.

Bourgeois, educated at Sorbonne in her native France and trained in the studio of Fernand Léger, received her first retrospective in 1982 at the Museum of Modern Art and is notorious for her monumental spider sculptures at the Tate Modern in London. Married to the noted American art historian Robert Goldwater, known for his pioneering study of correlations between primitive and modern art, she knew Surrealist expatriates in New York although she has stated that they were more like father figures to her than compatriots. At the Wexner, she has been paired in this show called “Double Sexus” with Polish-born Surrealist Hans Bellmer whose drawings, photography and sculpture was replete with direct sexual innuendos and his obsession with dolls reconfigured into androgynous figures.

Bourgeois has stated she works in series, starting small in a certain material and then changing material, which changes the subject. There are pieces in “Double Sexus” which refer to male and female genetalia including breasts, and in such pieces as the “Femme” (2005) she combines fabric with stainless steel in a wood and glass vitrine and in another manifestation fabricates her piece in bronze with a silver nitrate patina. The hermaphroditic merging of male and female is expressed in her hanging “Janus Fleuri” (1968) which seems to merge both forms, while “Nature Study” (1984) with its crouching, animaistic, multi-breasted being with phallus exists in several media like the bronze version in the collection of the Whitney Museum and the pink rubber version, cast in 2001, seen in this exhibition.

“Double Sexus” was organized at the Nationalgalerie, Berlin in cooperation with the Wexner Center, and was subsequently shown at Gemeentemuseum in Hague through early 2011. Though he left Germany in 1938 under pressure from the Nazis, the works by Hans Bellmer represented here come from several German collections as well as one piece “The Half Doll” (a 1972 reconstruction of the 1939-40 original) from the Israel Museum in Jerusalem.

Bellmer wrote in his “Birth of the Doll” (1936) that “the fabulous distance the dolls retained was an essential element of this extreme fragrance that wasted away proportionately as their inaccessibility decreased.” His accretions of dismembered doll parts are bizarre invocations of repressed violence and human fetishistic obsessions. Wexner Center Director Sherri Geldin saw the original joint installation in Berlin and was struck by the “truly uncanny parallels in their exploration and manipulation of the human body to challenge entrenched social conventions.”

“Double Sexus” is recommended only for mature audiences, as is a concurrent exhibition by Swedish artist Nathalie Djurberg called “Human Behavior” and her collaboration with composer Hans Berg, which was represented at the Venice Biennale in 2009. Their films with her grotesque clay animations of deviant behaviors, violence, cruelty and sexual subjugation with rape and fornication are an attempt to evoke empathy out of the depiction of violent brutality. As Curator Christopher Bedford writes, “puppetry has a kind of cultural promiscuity,” and Djerberg’s videos “are intensely private acts … later ushered into the world as public acts of political interpolation.”

For a pure expression of sensuality in its most relaxing and engaging form, nothing is better than the immersive video installation at the apex of the Wexner’s galleries by Swiss artist Pipilotti Rist, born 1962 in Rheintal. Rist has had many solo presentations of her work internationally at such venues as the Centre Pompidou in Paris, and most notably in America with the 2000 “Open My Glade,” commissioned by the New York Public Art Fund and shown on the screen in Times Square, and shown here as a single-channel video outside the Wexner’s east entrance. Her extremely large-scale “Pour Your Body Out” filled the high walls of the atrium of New York’s Museum of Modern Art in 2009.

For the Wexner, Rist has also provided a chandelier piece composed of intimate undergarments, both male and female, covered by amorphous sensual projections, and her main installation “The Tender Room.” Here she has drawn inspiration from her first feature-length film “Pepperminta,” which premiered at the Sundance Film Festival in 2009, and the multiple hanging screens of “The Tender Room” flow with brilliant close-up flower montages, floating human visages and subtle streams of coloristic energy. It is a space to be wandered within, weaving between screens, or appreciated from comfortable benches as the continuous overlapping motions of form and color wash over the viewer’s perceptions. Her focus on video/audio installations exists “because there is room for everything (painting, technology, language, music, movement, lousy, flowing pictures, poetry, commotion, premonition of death, sex and friendliness) – like in a compact handbag.”

The Wexner Center for the Arts is located in Columbus on the campus of The Ohio State University at 1871 N. High St. Gallery hours are 11 a.m. to 6 p.m., Tuesday to Wednesday and Sunday, 11 a.m. to 8 p.m., Thursday-Saturday. Admission is $45 and free for Wexner members, college students and visitors 18 and under. Free Thursdays from 4 p.m. to 8 p.m. and the first Sunday of every month. (614) 292-3535 or

Reach DCP visual art critic Jud Yalkut at

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