Medium of the Art
In my first few steps through the Harn I was privy to exhibitions of traditional mediums of art; an elaborate sculpted pot, a gold encrusted statue and a series of paintings or photographs. Then as I rounded the corner I was struck by what appeared to be a large quilt of various squares of designs with some even bearing words. After reading the inscription I learned that Louise Bourgeois grew up working at her family’s tapestry restoration business and these years included familial conflict that provided much of the inspiration for her artistic creations. Oftentimes her art was an exercise in personal psychoanalysis that helped her creatively release repressed anger and hurt. The ‘Ode à l’oubli’ (pictured above and below) is Bourgeois’ multi-edition fabric book. Each of the pieces of cloth and the material used to create the designs were collected by Bourgeois all throughout her life. Louise Bourgeois is said to have created this fabric book to encapsulate her hope for restoration and reconciliation with her traumatic childhood experiences. If I had simply seen ‘Ode à l’oubli’ in a book or on the internet I would not have been able to see every thoughtful stitch and the discordant yet somehow harmonious uniqueness of each cloth square. The fact that the medium of a fabric book, essentially a dissected quilt, was how Bourgeois chose to express herself was striking to me because when I think of a quilt I think of the warmth and safety one feels snuggled beneath it. For one of my graduation gifts my mother took all my high school t-shirts from the various clubs and organizations I had been a member of and made me a quilt. To this day that is the most thoughtful gift I have ever received! So when I saw this artist’s emotionally charged rendition of a quilt I felt like it communicated her family life and personal history to me. This artwork made me feel nostalgia but also reminded me of broken relationships within my familial unit. Therefore, when I read that Bourgeois wanted this fabric book to represent restoration and reconciliation with her past I understood that need as well.
How the Museum's Design Impacted My Tour
In my opinion, the Harn's crown jewel is the Frida Kahlo exhibit. Her iconic facial features are familiar to millions. However, for someone as artistically uncultured as I, Frida Kahlo's paintings were as striking as they were new.
In all honesty this exhibit made me feel righteously angry. Frida Kahlo dealt with marital strife, physical illness and the loss of a precious life! Yet, before this exhibit all I knew about Frida Kahlo was her 'unibrow'. Her photographs have stood the test of time but her paintings are less widely known than her face. As a woman still living in what is debatably still a man's world, I am frustrated by the miniature size of her paintings. The smallness of her canvas' seems to hint at how small and insignificant Frida felt her feelings were. I acknowledge that a pack of dynamic can come in a small package, but I also believe that her tiny masterpieces were her only outlet of true emotional expression. However, even her artistic catharsis was relegated to and contained in a tiny space.
Artists employ many mediums of expression to comment on the human condition and in the Guerrilla Girls exhibit I was once again stunned by the lack of gender equality. Here we are in the twenty-first century and the mass majority of women featured in the acclaimed Met Museum are nude (76% to be exact). The level of global misogyny is appalling! In the Harn’s Guerilla Girl’s exhibit, I found the visuals extremely eye-opening. To a greater extent, I realized that the ongoing fight for female artists to be equally recognized for their talents is still a modern day struggle.