This is the second in a series of posts explaining why specific works have been arranged the way they are in the galleries. You can read the first in the series here.
Crystal Bridges has recently acquired several works by Louise Bourgeois, including the monumental sculpture Maman, which will soon be installed on the Museum grounds, as well as a smaller sculpture and two paintings. One of these paintings, Untitled, 1947, is newly installed in a side room of the 1940s to Now Gallery. The placement of this artwork, alongside Isamu Noguchi’s abstract sculpture Gregory (Effigy) 1946, cast 1964, was something of a happy alignment of circumstances for Curator Chad Alligood.
The grouping, which focuses on the abstraction of the human figure in American art around the early 1940s, was organized and installed before the Bourgeois works were acquired. The Noguchi sculpture was a focal point of the display, but in the original installation, the place where the Bourgeois painting now hangs was occupied by a still life by Arshile Gorky, next to an early painting by Jackson Pollock.
“The Gorky never quite fit,” said Alligood. “It was a still life; it was the only one in that whole gallery that wasn’t human. I wasn’t entirely happy with it there, but to put Gorky with his friends Pollock and Noguchi made sense. He was participating in the same kind of abstraction. So even though it wasn’t a human figure, visually it was fine.”
Then the Bourgeois works arrived.
“I went to see them and there were surprises, as there often are.” Alligood explained: “Things look totally different when you’re looking at the actual work as opposed to a photograph. I was standing in the vault looking at it, thinking, ‘where are these going to go?’”
Suddenly he was struck by a similarity between the abstracted human form in Bourgeois’s untitled painting and the figure in Noguchi’s sculpture.
“In the Bourgeois there’s this Surrealist cone-like form, with this weird cigar-thing sticking out of its head,” Alligood said. “And our Noguchi has an abstracted human shape and there in the head there’s a sort of bonelike protrusion—and it’s perfect. The visual correlation makes the argument for them being together. Noguchi and Bourgeois were traveling in the same circles, and they both had sort of hybrid Americanized identities. Visitors can make the connection visually and then understand that both artists were part of the same milieu.”
Come visit the Museum’s 1940s to Now Gallery soon and see the remarkable correlations between these artworks for yourself.