A long time ago, when I was a teenager and just starting to fall in love with art I wandered into a gallery in Soho. I’m not sure whether there was a colorful flyer beckoning me, or I was willing to wander through almost any door that let me inside. This time I was lucky. I ended up in a self-contained bedroom, with its own wooden walls and door left open, installed in the gallery. Inside the room, everything I could see was crimson red: the red of cathedral candles, or fishnet stockings used in burlesque acts, or the blood in bloodshot eyes. Everything. The bed covers, sheets, pillowcases, and nightstand next to the bed were red, the hardcover books and knick-knacks, throw rugs and drapery — all that could be seen in a place that looked as if it were ready for human habitation was red.
This seemed to me so radical and disarming that I didn’t know what to think, but tried to imagine why someone would make such a thing ever. I don’t recall the name of the show or the gallery, but the artist stayed with me. I would encounter her again and again, at other galleries, at the Museum of Modern Art, at Tate Modern, her massive exhibition in the turbine hall, and each time her work left me armless and legless, unable to completely grasp it or walk away from it. Louise Bourgeois kept being, throughout my experience of encountering her here and there, odd and kooky, a rapscallion splendidly creating entire, surreal world views.
At Cheim & Read there is a new exhibition of the French-born Bourgeois’s holograms, which she began making in 1998. They remind me of that earlier work in that the dominant color is red, and the holograms create zones of fantasy immersion. Each image is formed by using laser beams to record the entire light field reflected from an object, and then burning that image onto a plate of glass, scaled at a one-to-one correspondence with the original. Crimson lights beam from the room’s ceiling, aimed at the glass plates set within frames attached to the wall.
Like my memories of first encountering Bourgeois’s work, the holograms are ephemeral. They are also shifty little images; move laterally a bit and the image disappears. Stand in front of them and you get small dioramas: a chair, a dressing table, set of mirrors, large enough to indicate that you are in a place of imaginative exploration, a domestic bed scene with just the lovers’ feet intertwined on an iron bed frame. One chair is huge, but has its doll house-size sitters underneath it. One chair sits inside a glass bubble as both memory and keepsake reminder. One chair forlornly faces the corner all by itself. I wanted to be quiet in this room, and was. Bourgeois passed away in 2010, but then I see her visions of these dreamscapes and am swimming in them, and she’s back again with me, leading me by the hand through her version of the looking glass.
Louise Bourgeois: Holograms continues at Cheim & Read (547 West 25 Street, Chelsea, Manhattan) through February 11.