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Louise Bourgeois: Ode to Forgetting, From the Collections of Jordan D. Schnitzer and His Family Foundation

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LocationThe Frances Lehman Loeb Art Center

The exhibition will be on view at Vassar College’s Frances Lehman Loeb Art Center, the only venue on the East Coast to host these works. An opening lecture will take place on Saturday, February 8, 2020 at 5:30pm in Taylor 102, followed by a reception in the Atrium of the Art Center.

Louise Bourgeois (1911–2010) is one of the most renowned artists of the twentieth century, perhaps best known for powerful sculptures, including monumental spiders, human figures, and anthropomorphic shapes. An enigmatic chronicler of her emotions, she made drawings daily, and returned regularly to printmaking. The exhibition includes 87 works and focuses on prints she made in her eighties and nineties, with a few earlier examples and a massive spiral sculpture to give additional context.

Many of the prints incorporate or replicate fabrics, reflecting a lifelong interest in textiles connected to Bourgeois’s childhood years in the Paris suburbs, where her family lived and had their on-site tapestry restoration business. For more than ninety years, Bourgeois made drawings daily, beginning in childhood and continuing until her death at age ninety-eight. She made art because she had to, and described her practice as a means of survival, a lifelong managing of emotional vulnerabilities, traumas, and nightmares. As she put it, “Art is a guarantee of sanity.”

“Following the success of the 2017 exhibition Fluid Expressions, Prints of Helen Frankenthaler, from the Collections of Jordan D Schnitzer and His Family Foundation, we are thrilled to partner once again with Frances Lehman Loeb Art Center to share rarely exhibited fabric, books and prints by Louise Bourgeois,” said Jordan D Schnitzer. “This powerful exhibition exemplifies the artist’s tireless creative process and her relentless pursuit of themes of the body, nature, and emotional trauma.”

The exhibition is divided among three galleries, with the body the first major theme and an enduring subject for this revered artist. The introductory room displays versions of the female body under psychological siege and a series of signature spider prints that are allegorical in nature. The first gallery also features Bourgeois’s five prints of the Crochet series, where the resilience theme one sees in her images of the female body and spider has now been abstracted and reduced to symbols and shapes through the act of weaving, twisting, and knotting material.

In the second gallery, the body becomes the chief player again, though now there are two or more bodies involved, usually couples, but also a mother and child, and a significant amount of abstraction. Here in ebullient prints and a large aluminum sculpture the spiral appears as a prominent motif and suggests the literal intertwining and enveloping nature of relationships. The theme of memory features in this middle gallery as well. At the beginning of her ninetieth decade, in 2002, Bourgeois constructed Ode à l'Oubli (Ode to Forgetting), her first fabric book, compiled from her garments and linens that she had kept over a lifetime. The linen came from sixty-year-old monogrammed hand towels from her trousseau. Working from one page to the next, Bourgeois cut and arranged pieces from silk, nylon, rayon, and other fabrics to form color collages. The original, unique Ode à l'Oubli is both personal artifact and a cathartic object of transformation. For the artist, finding temporary peace from plaguing anxieties was reached through making art such as this that entailed habitual handwork, as in other works on view. The unbound work shown in the exhibition duplicates that unique book, using vintage textiles, state-of-the-art lithography, and fabric-dying processes, and is a marvel stretching the limits of printmaking.

The third and last gallery presents the sequential Hours of the Day, from 2006, a print series surrounding the theme of time. Printed on fabric with rhythmic bars of lines referencing sheet music, each panel features an abstracted, twenty-four-hour printed clock pointing to the time of day, along with a title or saying, sometimes cryptic, sometimes confessional, taken from her diaries. Somewhat reminiscent of a medieval book of hours with written prayers for each hour, the series suggests that living in the past was a preoccupation of her time, though wanting to forgive and forget and live in the present was a real desire, as she noted on an earlier, related drawing for this series.

At age seventy Bourgeois was the first woman to be accorded a retrospective at the Museum of Modern Art, New York. Honored with numerous exhibitions, in 2007, a full-career retrospective premiered at the Tate Modern, London, and toured to Centre Pompidou, Paris; the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York; the Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles, and the Hirshhorn Museum & Sculpture Garden, Washington, DC. In 2017, the Museum of Modern Art premiered Louise Bourgeois: An Unfolding Portrait exploring the prints, books, and creative process of this celebrated artist.

Louise Bourgeois: Ode to Forgetting, From the Collections of Jordan D. Schnitzer and His Family Foundation is organized by the Jordan Schnitzer Museum of Art at Washington State University, in collaboration with the Frances Lehman Loeb Art Center, Vassar College. Its presentation at Vassar is made possible through the support of the Friends of the Frances Lehman Loeb Art Center Fund and the Horace Goldsmith Exhibition Fund.

PUBLIC PROGRAMS

Opening Lecture, Saturday, February 8, 2020, 5:30pm, Taylor 102, Donald Kuspit: “The Benefit of Art According to Louise Bourgeois: ‘Art Is a Guarantee of Sanity’”

A reception follows in the Atrium of the Art Center.

Donald Kuspit is one of the most prestigious art critics in the United States. A specialist in modern and contemporary art, philosophy, and psychoanalysis, he engages all three areas with his writings and lectures. Kuspit is Distinguished Professor Emeritus of Art History and Philosophy at Stony Brook University and winner of the prestigious Frank Jewett Mather Award for Distinction in Art Criticism, awarded by the College Art Association. The author of numerous books, catalogue essays, and articles, he interviewed Louise Bourgeois and has written incisively about her art, life, and her own writings, especially from a psychoanalytic perspective. Most recently, he contributed insightful essays to the book Louise Bourgeois: The Return of the Repressed, published by Violette Editions in 2012 and edited by Philip Larratt-Smith. His formal training in psychoanalysis includes study at the Psychoanalytic Institute of New York University Medical Center. Professor Kuspit received a Ph.D in philosophy from the University of Frankfurt in Germany and a Ph.D. in art history from the University of Michigan.

Gallery Talk, Thursday, March 5, 2020, 5:00pm, during Late Night at the Lehman Loeb, Patricia Phagan, the Philip and Lynn Straus Curator of Prints and Drawings and the organizer of the exhibition at the Art Center, joins New York master printers Judith Solodkin of SOLO Impression and Felix Harlan of Harlan & Weaver in a walkthrough and discussion of their collaboration with Louise Bourgeois with the works on view.

Gallery Talk, Thursday, March 26, 2020, 5:00pm, Patricia Phagan, the Philip and Lynn Straus Curator of Prints and Drawings and the organizer of the exhibition at the Art Center, discusses the major themes and key highlights of the show.

Family Day, Sunday, March 29, 2020, 2:00pm-4:00pm, Children and their families can enjoy a range of ongoing hands-on art activities inspired by works on view in the Louise Bourgeois exhibition, and child-friendly interactive “mini-tours” of the galleries will be offered throughout the afternoon as well. Activities will make use of several different art materials and techniques, including textiles and printmaking. Best suited for ages 5–10, the program is free and no reservations are required; participants can drop in at any time.

FOR EDUCATORS

Educators’ Open House, Thursday, January 30, 2020, 4:00pm-6:00pm, Educators and school administrators are invited to explore the Louise Bourgeois: Ode to Forgetting exhibition during our Educators’ Open House. Tour the galleries with curators and educators, enjoy food, drinks, and fun conversation, and learn about opportunities for students and teachers to connect with the Loeb Art Center.

About the Jordan Schnitzer Family Foundation

At age 14, Jordan D. Schnitzer bought his first work of art from his mother’s Portland, Oregon contemporary art gallery, evolving into a lifelong avocation as collector. He began collecting contemporary prints and multiples in earnest in 1988. Today, the collection exceeds 13,000 works and includes many of today’s most important contemporary artists. It has grown to be one of the country’s largest private print collections. He generously lends work from his collection to qualified institutions. The Foundation has organized over 110 exhibitions and has had art exhibited at over 150 museums. Mr. Schnitzer is also President of Harsch Investment Properties, a privately owned real estate investment company based in Portland, Oregon, owning and managing office, multi-tenant industrial, multi-family and retail properties in six western states. For more information about the Jordan Schnitzer Family Foundation, please visit jordanschnitzer.org.

About the Frances Lehman Loeb Art Center

The Frances Lehman Loeb Art Center was founded in 1864 as the Vassar College Art Gallery. The current 36,400-square-foot facility, designed by Cesar Pelli and named in honor of the new building's primary donor, opened in 1993. Vassar was the first U.S. college founded with an art museum as a part of its original plans, and at any given time, the Permanent Collection Galleries of the Art Center feature approximately 350 works from Vassar's extensive collections. The Art Center's collections chart the history of art from antiquity to the present and comprise over 22,000 works, including paintings, sculptures, drawings, prints, photographs, and ceramic wares.  Notable holdings include the Warburg Collection of Old Master prints, an important group of Hudson River School paintings given by Matthew Vassar at the college's inception, and a wide range of works by major European and American 20th-century painters. 

Admission to the Frances Lehman Loeb Art Center is free and all galleries are wheelchair accessible.  The Art Center is open to the public Tuesday, Wednesday, Friday, Saturday, 10:00am–5:00pm; Thursday, 10:00am–9:00pm; and Sunday, 1:00–5:00pm.  Located at the entrance to the historic Vassar College campus, the Art Center can be reached within minutes from other Mid-Hudson cultural attractions, such as Dia:Beacon, the Franklin Roosevelt and Eleanor Roosevelt national historic sites and homes, and the Vanderbilt mansion.  For additional information, the public may call (845) 437-5237 or visit fllac.vassar.edu.

Vassar College strives to make its events, performances, and facilities accessible to all. Individuals with disabilities requiring special accommodations must contact the Office of Campus Activities at least 48 hours in advance of an event, Mondays-Fridays, at (845) 437-5370. Without sufficient notice, appropriate space and/or assistance may not be available. For detailed information about accessibility to specific campus facilities, search for “campus accessibility information” on the Vassar homepage http://www.vassar.edu.

Directions to the Vassar campus, located at 124 Raymond Avenue in Poughkeepsie, NY, are available at http://www.vassar.edu/visitors/.

Vassar College is a coeducational, independent, residential liberal arts college founded in 1861.

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