By Gwyneth Leech
India ink on white cup, 2010
The sculptor Louise Bourgeois died last week at the age of 98. She lived for decades in a narrow brownstone on 20th Street in Manhattan. Every Sunday afternoon, until she was well into her nineties, artists gathered for hours in a cluttered library on the first floor to show her their artwork.
I first ended up at one of these salons when I dared my sculptor friend Sarah McKenzie Smith, who was visiting from Scotland, to call her up and invite ourselves for tea. Louise's number was in the phone book. How shocked we were when she answered the phone and said, "come this Sunday"! We were even more surprised to meet artists from several different countries there, and a curator from the Museum of Modern Art who sat beside the wizened artist at her work table and handled the artwork. When Sarah made the call we had no idea this happened every week. And each salon was video-taped by an assistant. There must be thousands of hours of tape.
I took my daughter Megan, then five, to one of the salons when the artist was almost ninety. As we entered the house Megan sneezed and was nearly thrown out, but allowed to stay as long as she sat by the window as far away from Louise as possible. Megan had brought a little folder of princess drawings. When Louise saw them she asked, "Who did these?" I said, "Megan, she's five." "Impossible!" declared Louise. Then she had paper brought and gave Megan her own "favorite" red Sharpie to use. Under pressure, Megan drew a very respectable princess. Louise held it up and examined it. "Hmpf," she said, and turned to the next artist.
Louise was rather like a spider at the several salons I went to - sitting behind her table all in black, silently waiting for an interesting art morsel to land in front of her. No tea was served, but there was psycho-drama in abundance. That first time, Sarah and I went elated, but came away disturbed. Many artists have similar recollections. Maybe it is best not to meet your art idols!
Louise Bourgeois Spider Sculptures