Au Revoir, Louise


I only just found out about Louise Bourgeois! She died 2 days ago at age 98. I bet she was making art right until the end. *Edit: she was. That was how she lived. She just had to make.

She was kind of a dirty old lady and I love her for that. She’s holding La Filette in this Mapplethorpe photo, and La Filette hangs from a hook at MoMA.

I had the honor and privilege of working not with her, but with her work, at my job in NYC. I worked at this amazing textile design studio called Dyenamix. I was pretty lucky to have the job–it was creative and interesting and I got to work on crazy things like scanning inspiration fabrics for flaky designers or rolling out Spiderman suits for Universal Studios. By far the best work we got to do was with Louise. It started with her fabric books, Ode a L’Oubli and Ode a La Bièvre, which she crafted from piles of dresses and scarves and frippery that had been in various states of storage since the 20s. The originals are G O R G E O U S. You look at these pages and pages of silks and cottons and trims and wonder what they were before, and you almost don’t care because Louise (and at her direction, Mercedes, a seamstress) has done the most perfect thing with them. You can read about the project here.

I only just barely caught the tail end of our work on making reproductions (which sold for unspeakable sums), but we scanned the pages, cleaned them up, and printed them digitally. “We” also dyed fabrics to match hers. Then *our* seamstress stitched them up so we had some pretty convincing and beautiful facsimiles. Things like age and tears can’t really be reproduced, but you’d be amazed at the quality that can be achieved with a big giant digital printer, many inks and silk.

Those pages! I wish I had better images of them (these are via Carolina Nitsch Gallery, where I nearly interned). We also silkscreened the text. I had to mix that blue about 100 times.

The page closest to my heart is that red and blue on the bottom left there. I worked about an hour of Photoshop magic on the scanned file! Ooh la la!  I love the page with the pale blue-green waves, and my favorites are the stripes with the measuring tape and the page with the calendar ribbon. They are just the bee’s knees.

We also worked on projects like the Hours of the Day, and Night and Day, which is also very cool.

Louise never left her apartment in Chelsea; Jerry, her sweet emissary, assistant, surrogate son came to us in her stead. I got to go to the apartment once to deliver something and I tried very hard not to look like I was curious when Jerry answered the door. I would love to creep through those cramped little rooms! And I could have, I suppose, at one of her infamous salons. There is a great film that I went to with my dear friend Diane (the beating heart of Dyenamix) at Film Forum, called The Spider, the Mistress and the Tangerine. It’s mostly footage from about 1993 when Louise was still rattling like a little pearl handled pistol, and Jerry’s adorable in a pink sleeveless shirt and cut offs. She was feisty, smart, determined, and grounded. And you can see her little nooks and hidey holes and work spaces, also seen in the more recent film La Rivière Gentille, which is quieter and less fun but which I got to watch in the same room as Robert Storr and his funny haircut. That movie was actually pretty incredible to see because at the time of the screening, we were being sent piles of watercolor paintings by Louise and Jerry that were hilarious, touching, graphic, and really lovely. Literally, piles. She’d paint in bright red or deep blue on full size, wet sheets of watercolor paper…variations on voluptuous naked women, with 8 tits, with wild snaky witch hair, with see-through pregnant bellies. Childish and emotional and so great. The blue ones were mostly pregnant men, with boners, with no arms, with twins, salivating, crying. I’d scan them and piece them together, and it was maddening and weird but really pretty awesome to get to know them so intimately.

We didn’t have any work in it (though we did help, but I don’t think I’m allowed to tell those stories) but we got invited to the opening of her retrospective at the Guggenheim two years ago. It was very exciting and though it ended up not being as fancy pants as we hoped, motherfucking Chuck Close was there.

Diane and Me, being foxy.

Awful picture, amazing sculpture

Note my pendant, a tiny spider encased in resin, for Louise et her maman(s).

Lurking on Chuck Close!

That cell! So much velvet!


White Cell

The show was really beautiful and when I left Dyenamix, my boss gave me the catalog and a tote bag that I still carry and it is still lovely even though I have grimed it up something awful. (I saw the show again at the Hirschorn…maybe I took some stealth pictures there?)

So here’s to Louise and her family and Jerry and Wendy, and to Raylene, who gave me the chance to work with Louise. RIP, you crazy, brilliant thing.

One Response to “Au Revoir, Louise”

  1. 1 dell

    Hi Annie,
    so lucky. I love those books, and love LB. Just finished watching the earlier documentary. So sharp and funny and beautiful.


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