In Mamelles, Louise Bourgeois has dislocated and multiplied a breast in bubblegum pink rubber. She has described this work as a portrait of Don Juan, the emblem of a man for whom a woman is simply an object to desire and consume. Around this sculpture, other works circle, dismantle and dissolve the (often female) body. In different contexts, and to different ends, Elisabeth Frink, César and Marcel Duchamp made new forms of sculpture that isolated body parts or amputated bodies.
The ‘exquisite corpse’ drawing of bodily fragments made by André Breton and his surrealist colleagues was produced according to ‘automatic’ thought; its images conjured in the realm of lucid dreams, between sleep and wakefulness. Rachel Whiteread’s cast of the spatial void around an air mattress – the space where a body would be – suggests associations of sleep, illness and death. Jean Dubuffet and Wols (who is known to have made his drawings in bed, stating ‘true work is done in a horizontal position’) exploded and collapsed the body in various ways, emphasising its grotesque fleshiness. Later, Marie-Louise von Motesiczky painted her mother close to death, emphasising the degradation of her body as she lay in bed.
The nature of motherhood is explored in the work of Bourgeois, Julio González and Von Motesiczky, connecting to questions of influence and artistic lineage. Bourgeois emerged from a French surrealist circle that cast women as ‘muse’ or ‘object’, and was taught early on by Fernand Léger, whose purist drawing Mechanical Elements is also shown here. She recalled ‘Marcel Duchamp could have been my father’, but developed new sculptural forms in what might be called a process of ‘negative transference’: a combination of fascination, hostility and resentment for her predecessors. Meanwhile, Bourgeois herself has been called a ‘feminist foremother’ with huge generative potential for many artists that have followed her.