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ART IN REVIEW: Louise Bourgeois and Yayoi Kusama
By Ken Johnson
June 22, 2001

Bringing Louise Bourgeois and Yayoi Kusama together for the first time in this illuminating drawing exhibition was an inspired idea. Both are internationally celebrated women, one French-American, the other Japanese, who have continued to produce exciting art into their later years. (Ms. Bourgeois was born in 1911; Ms. Kusama in 1929.) Both have found creative inspiration in the wilder and deeper parts of consciousness. And as this well-selected show of works from 1942 to 2000 proves, both have long practiced repetitive marking-making. 

In many of Ms. Bourgeois's drawings from around 1950, lines repeatedly brushed in black ink create fields resembling hair or primordial landscapes. In a recent work, concentrically nested ovals are drawn in scratchy red lines, producing a primitivistic, enigmatically iconic image. And in a series of works made on music composition paper, the artist drew wavy lines and dots over the staff lines, suggesting some secret language. 

Ms. Kusama's work involves mostly accumulations of dots or irregular all-over networks of line in black and white or, more recently, in luminous eye-buzzing color. While similarities to Ms. Bourgeois's work are readily apparent, there is a difference. 

Ms. Bourgeois remains, even at her most abstract, a maker of metaphorically resonant images. Ms. Kusama tends more to a kind of psychological and formal literalism. As she has made clear in autobiographical writings, she is trying to reproduce an experience of psychotically altered perception, a flooding of vision by hallucinatory patterning. In comparison to Ms. Bourgeois's work, this provides the viewer with something more optical than metaphorical on the one hand, and on the other, more cosmic than subterranean.


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