I’ve been struggling this week. How about you?
What do you do when life feels hard?
I’m pretty sure I’m coming down from the hard drugs they have been injecting me for the past two years. My menopausal symptoms are just beginning to subside – just occasionally I’ve actually slept through and I feel almost as proud of myself as I did my son when he began to achieve such delights!
I think it’s right to assume my body is slowly producing Oestrogen again, not only is this causing me to be unfeasibly emotional, but also Oestrogen is the drug that Endometriosis feeds off, so maybe that’s a brain challenge too.
So I thought I’d go back to a moment last year and just remain there for a few days – well, in truth, in my lovely local cafe – and see if I can reproduce some of those lovely brain drugs (Serotonin? Oxytocin? Dopamine?) that makes your brain light up in those great moments.
Last June I received a personal invitation to Louise Bourgeois’ New York home. The house she lived in for 48 years. Life hasn’t got much more exciting than that.
The day started in Boston, and luckily I was writing as I went, so here I am on June 11th 2019.
Boston South Station (the morning after a gig) and a reminder of how impossible the American train system is to fathom. A huge screen of trains, just final destinations, train company and TBD tracks. That’s it.
I asked at the Tourist Information.
8 o’clock to New York, please?
He looked blank.
Which track please?
He shrugged. Who you travelling with?
Oh, erm, Amtrak.
He looked into the distance and mumbled ‘Track 7’.
It never came up on the screen and I got halfway down the train before I found someone who could confirm the train would stop in New York.
Imagine the bedlam if Paddington Station ran like this!
This particular trip is all about 347 West 20th (between 8th and 9th).
Home of Louise Bourgeois from 1968 till her death in 2010.
Feeling rather shell shocked as I write. Lost for words. Hardly a great state for writing a blog!
Life seems so centred around evidence rather than memories nowadays.
I have just spent 2 hours taking in SO much information that I want to keep forever.
There is a no-photography policy inside her house. So it’ll have to be recorded in words or my own pictures…
You may remember that last time I was in New York (see Reader I stroked his beard) I went to her house but wasn’t able to get in due to the red tape put in place around opening a private house to the public. I had a lovely chat with Maggie Wright, the (Executive?) Director of the Easton Foundation (who look after her estate and on-going affairs) but she was not able to let me into the house.
The website says that this still has not been resolved and so, prior to this visit, I simply wrote and said I was in town and wanted to check I wasn’t going to miss anything on display anywhere.
I had a reply saying to let them know exactly when I’d be there as they hoped they’d be able to show me around the house…
I thought they must mean there was a tour and they would kindly choose a time around me. That felt pretty amazing!
But no – just me.
They’d like to show me around her house.
So I did. And it happened. This morning.
The tour started in number 349, the house adjacent to her house (purchased by Bourgeois for the Foundation in 2009, a year before she died, for a tidy $4.75M)
The ground floor is light and airy and has a number of sculptures, including a marble portrait of her husband that she started in the ’70s but stopped when he died. She completed in the 80/90’s. It has never been exhibited.
The red brick townhouses are surprisingly deep and downstairs is more gallery space, with exhibits of her writing.
Louise was a prolific writer, many would argue she should be as well known as a writer as she is an artist. She wrote diaries from 1923 through to 2006 (they are all still there in her house), but not just diaries, she wrote on loose sheets and, in her later years, on the back of drawings.
Mira, who was taking me on the tour, told a story of how Louise lost her 1923 diary (aged 12) as a child. It was a beautiful book with printed pictures, and Louise had both written and drawn in it.
As her fame was picking up, the Pompidou Centre, in Paris, had a retrospective exhibition of her work, and, alongside the show, French television made a programme about her life and work.
A bookseller and collector was watching the programme and saw them talking about her diaries and realised that he had this missing diary. He had found it in a crate of books and had liked it so much he had kept it. He had no idea who Louise Bourgeois was, but in fact, had consequently named his daughter Louise after this book.
He got in touch and they negotiated its return in exchange for one of her pictures.
The back yard is at basement level and has solid, but stylish, concrete walls around it, necessary to house this pair:
One of her spiders (see MAMAN) was sold at auction last month, for a whopping $32million – meaning she remained the second highest-grossing female artist ever. Those high concrete walls make a lot of sense.
Back inside the house and the first time-warp door is opened.
I was completely unprepared for this.
Suddenly we were in her basement.
It took my breath away.
A lot of her work was made in this room, and I had imagined it so very many times.
[Damn the Oestrogen, the tears are pricking as I reread this!]
There in the first corner hangs a prototype Janus!
In October 1999 an ad was put in Women’s Wear Daily for a seamstress, and they hired Mercedes Katz. Louise was 88 by then and frustrated that her stitching was no longer as neat as she would like. She would cut, pin and bast her works and Mercedes would do the final stitching.
This all happened right here in THIS room.
There was still unfinished work on the table. 3 red stuffed legs hung from the ceiling. A rail of unused clothes – saved from cutting up – to be sewn or hung in a work.
The number of plastic boxes of fabric was admirable. I only wished my husband could’ve seen – my extensive collection pails into insignificance in comparison!
The walls were lined with shelves. Like a hardware store.
Then there were the printing presses.
Two. I knew this.
One that Louise had bought in her early years in New York.
No one would envy the people who moved it to this house. While the pressing plate is relatively small, the machine is comparatively massive and solid heavy metal machinery.
The second is a slightly younger machine, but both of these presses were used to produce her work.
As a result of owning these machines, Bourgeois is one of the few artists that it is still possible to see the way she worked. She (or in later years a printer who would work alongside her) would make a print and then work on that print. She would make a series of the same original.
Slowly we left the basement, I wanted to stay there forever!
Up the stairs into the main house.
Watch this space to see what I discovered upstairs…