Hauser & Wirth’s latest exhibition at their London gallery ‘Maisons Fragiles’ combines the work of nine artists across six decades, including Louise Bourgeois, Alexander Calder, Isa Genzken, Robert Gober, Eva Hesse, Roni Horn, Gordon Matta-Clark, Fausto Metti and Richard Serra, into an experience of psychological and material juxtapositions, intended to explore the themes of “fragility, vulnerability and protection”.
‘Maisons Fragiles’ draws its name from one of the central works, Louise Bourgeois’s Maisons Fragiles (1978) which stands precariously in the center of the first room. As with much of Bourgeois’s work, Maisons Fragiles exudes a psychoanalytic aura infused with explorations of the complex feminine terrain and disillusionment with domesticity. On the one hand, the work presents one of the central themes of the broader exhibition, through a portrayal of the fragility of the ‘home’ as a means of protection and comfort. In this regard, the architectural structure of the sculpture resembles the subject of its title. Yet the instability of the rectangular composition, combined with its hollow interior, reflects the void in reliability of the home or the domestic set-up as a source of protection that is so well documented in readings of Bourgeois’s work. However, alongside this overt biographical interpretation, the work also contains further elements of, not necessarily vulnerability, but rather anxiety. In this vein, the dialectical tension between the perceived fragility of the architectural structure and the strength of its steel material incites a notion of both the imprisonment of gendered femininity and the weaknesses of its ‘containment’. The steel frame of the ‘domestic’ is both solid and warped. In this manner, the work can be read as a comment on the instability of societally gendered identity but also the vitiating influence it has on the psyche.
Equally as engaging is the image of Gordon Matta-Clark’s Splitting (1974). Matta-Clark, who trained as an architect, has subverted his creative medium towards the destruction of abandoned buildings, using a chainsaw to cut into structures in order to create unexpected apertures and incisions. His work presents a vision of the dehumanisation of the modern world through subjugating the ‘protective’ norms in which we incase ourselves. In this iconic piece, Matta-Clark has sawn in half a suburban house in New Jersey, bringing forth a beam of light that invades the interior and diminishes the image of the man-made structure to shadow. The work ultimately presents a sense of impermanence, both of the architectural structure and the values in which it embodies.
Also in the larger gallery room, Robert Gober conjointly explores the concept of the home in his piece Untitled (Bent Door) (1988). Gober is known for his uncanny explorations of architecture and objects that allude to the home environment, whilst subverting the context and configuration from how we usually view them. The intent is to create an unnerving and disconcerted reaction within the viewer through manipulating the emotional and physical connotations they attach to the objects. Unfortunately, in my opinion, Untitled (Bent Door) is a poor example of this practice. Despite its inconvenient positioning at the entrance to the gallery with the intent to unnerve, within this exhibition the work feels rather drained of tangible emotional impact, particularly when seen alongside others such as Bourgeois and Matta-Clark. In this context Gober’s piece becomes more amusing than psychologically disruptive, due to the stock imagery it utilised with the door being composed in the form of a cartoon-like house roof.
Overall, one of the most striking aspects of the exhibition is the preoccupation with materiality present within the works and the contrasting weight and texture utilised within the pieces. It is here that the curatorial foreword concerning the exhibitions focus on fragility and vulnerability seems to me to be incomplete. In fact, the materiality within the works present a dialogue, or more often an altercation, between concepts of strength and vulnerability.
For example, the most interesting piece in the smaller gallery space, Roni Horn’s Two Pink Tons (2008) contains this tension between strength and fragility. In the piece, Horn manipulates our preconceptions about the physical properties of glass with a contrasting pictorial impression. Where one would expect the material to be thin and fragile, in fact we are presented with two large, heavy slabs placed adjacent to one another on the floor. Yet the interplay between strength and fragility is infused further in that the sculpture also appears as if it were two pools of water. So ultimately Two Pink Tons exists as a contradiction between the properties of such a traditionally fragile material, appearing as a solid structure, disguising itself with the appearance of an ephemerally still liquid. Thus the work is the ultimate exploration of malleable perceptions of vulnerability and strength. Hence, for me, one of the most effective aspects of the curation is how the discourse between the works asks the viewer to challenge their perceptions of true vulnerability.
Exhibition: until 06th February 2016.
Hauser & Wirth • 23 Savile Row • London W1S 2ET