Reading

Corporeal Congruencies: Louise Bourgeois and Pooneh Maghazehe at CPM

Previous Story
Article Image

The News: Hogan’s Vaccine Rollout Scrutiniz [...]

Next Story
Article Image

The Internet Is Exploding: 10 Must-Read Articles [...]

The body before me resembles a headless version of the Venus of Willendorf—wide hips, full breasts, a protruding belly, and feet lost to time or accident or violence. Louise Bourgeois titled the image “Hanging Figure” (2000), and this body does indeed hang on a hook like some gruesome ornament, like bait, like the meat a predator might desire. Bourgeois blacked out the border of the drypoint print as if we are looking through the horizontal pupil of an animal, further emphasizing our distance and detachment from the female form.

“Hanging Figure” is one of four Bourgeois drypoints in CPM Gallery’s newest exhibition, Figure Study. The Bourgeois prints are juxtaposed with four new drypoints from Pooneh Maghazehe, a Pennsylvania- and New-York-based artist who taught sculpture at MICA from 2014 to 2019. Both women are primarily known for their work in sculpture, and that tactile sensibility easily translates to these textured two-dimensional pieces.

Installation view of Figure Study at CPM Gallery

Maghazehe’s most texture-laden print, titled “‘A Place in the Sun’, Sands II” (2021), uses thick lines of negative space to outline a can of Diet Coke among more abstract shapes and curves. The overlaid geometric pattern calls to mind graph paper, a loom, or, perhaps most relevant here, a sieve. There is much to unearth, sifting through this image: tight squiggles like curl patterns; what might be the toes of a foot; and two asterisks—a typist’s symbol most often used to signal something has been omitted or displaced in the text. These findings raise the question: Who authors the narratives a culture consumes? And, equally as important, what has been cut out?

Studying Bourgeois next to Maghazehe, the theme of rupture emerges again and again. What it means when materials are pierced, pressured, torn—or when the body is treated as just another material to manipulate. In Bourgeois’ “Head on Fire” (2000), a reserved face seems resigned to the fact that her hair has become flame, the fire already overtaking an ear. In Maghazehe’s “Morning Sands II” (2021), a girl tosses back a drink with one hand on a trashcan, split between the dual desires of consumption and disregard. For both Maghazehe and Bourgeois, women seem to embody such paradoxes; they are capable—and often forced—to be many things at once.

The practice of printmaking uses etched plates, often made of a metal such as copper, to transfer the image to paper. Images are created by the artist, then recreated, like a memory running on loop. The ways in which Bourgeois and Maghazehe depict the female body are ingrained in both the image and the process. The ways a body transforms when it is studied, dissected, experimented upon. This type of study is scientific, capable of yielding horrific imagery, as to apply a clinician’s view of the body often entails withdrawing one’s empathy, distancing one’s humanity.

Louise Bourgeois, Dismemberment, 1994, Courtesy Peter Blum Edition
Louise Bourgeois, Hanging Figure, 2000, drypoint on paper, 5 x 12 inches, © The Easton Foundation/VAGA at Artists Rights Society (ARS), NY.
Louise Bourgeois, Arched Figure, 1993, drypoint print, 15 5/8 x 22 inches, Courtesy Peter Blum Editions

In “Arched Figure” (2003), Bourgeois depicts a woman hanging like an archer’s bow from a cord at her navel. Her lower half appears full-bodied, but the ribs of her torso are plainly visible. The diminishing body leads to the head—a rough circle with two dark spots for eyes and a black O for a mouth, like a crude representation of a skull. Under our scrutiny, this body wastes away, inverting the original purpose of an umbilical cord, which is to nourish.

There is a story behind Maghazehe’s series: In 2014, at a beach in Miami, the artist saw twin girls passing a Diet Coke back and forth. The twins took equally measured sips before tossing the unfinished beverage in the trash. Not a blockbuster plot, but a provocative philosophical juxtaposition. The birth of twins is an act of simultaneous reproduction, an image in duplicate, 1 + 1. A diet, on the other hand, is a process designed to manipulate the body, to alter its constitution. While some diets are designed to add, diets much more frequently subtract. (Measured sips before discarding the remainder.) The aim is to excise the part of the body incongruous with an ideal. A diet adheres to a culture’s template, a ruthless narrative too often authored by patriarchy, white supremacy, and capitalism.

 

Pooneh Maghazehe, A Place in the Sun, Sands II (detail), 2021, drypoint print, 21 1/4 x 14 1/2 inches, Courtesy CPM Editions
Pooneh Maghazehe, Morning Sands I (detail), 2021, drypoint print, Courtesy CPM Editions
Installation view of Figure Study at CPM Gallery

The word mimesis is an ancient Greek word related to ideas of imitation, inspiration, and modeling. Printmaking is an artistic practice that often traffics in these ideas, an artistic practice often rooted in rumination as the artist recycles images from the copper plate’s memory. The title of this exhibition is Figure Study, and what is the basis of figure study if not the quick sketch artists make to prepare themselves for a larger work, for a more sophisticated understanding? These drypoint prints from Bourgeois and Maghazehe offer the opportunity to gain such an understanding—of the body, of womanhood, of the violence in viewing the body as spectacle, of what is lost when this narrative of harm perpetuates. We can try to fill in the blanks. Examining these female figures, one notices their forms are whittled down, worn out, or erased. Their forms are perhaps consumed by the very desire to figure them out in the first place.

Bourgeois’ “Dismemberment” (1994) shows a woman fragmented, separated both above the ankles and below the breasts, standing in what might be a surrealist shower stall, the showerhead itself gazing with a sinister expression at the woman with her eyes closed. Two other faces hover out of her sight, committing that all-too-real and familiar violence: the disregard of consent. To drive home the point that this violence is no illusion, what appears to be a long, latex surgical glove lies on the floor, darkened by spots of blood.

What is the consequence of this violence? “Dismemberment” enacts a reorganization of the body against the will; the woman’s identity becomes asynchronous; for her to exist in this world is to have a hybrid identity, at times as uncomfortable and mismatched as the heels she wears in Bourgeois’ print. Or, to translate this question to Maghazehe’s “Morning Sands I” (2021), the print in which we can most clearly discern the figure of a girl holding a beverage: What is the line between satiating a desire and throwing out convention? What type of image do we allow ourselves to create?

 

Pooneh Maghazehe, A Place in the Sun, Sands II, drypoint print, 21 1/4 x 14 1/2 inches, Courtesy CPM Editions
Pooneh Maghazehe, Morning Sands I, 2021, drypoint print, 21 1/4 x 14 1/2 inches, Courtesy CPM Editions
Installation view of Figure Study at CPM Gallery

*****

Figure Study can be viewed in person through March 12. Make an appointment to see it. There will be a virtual artist talk with the author and Pooneh Maghazehe on March 12 from 6:30-7:30 p.m. A selection of works from the exhibition will be available in the viewing room at CPM through March 27th, by appointment. For additional information and availability, please contact info@cpmprogram.com.

Related Stories
"Laurie Anderson: The Weather" presents more than fifty works from across a renowned career

Featuring sculptures, installations, videos, and photographs, and juxtaposing pieces from across her career with a host of recent works , "The Weather" is a dazzling display of what the art historian RoseLee Goldberg once called Anderson’s “powerful inventive drive.

This group exhibition of contemporary Black Baltimore- and DC-based artists plays on personal and collective histories

The show’s larger focus is material culture, specifically Black material culture featuring objects that contain history and tradition.

Why is a painting of a nude woman by a woman potentially offensive, but not one by a man?

Lisa Yuskavage’s porn-inspired, rainbow-hued paintings of women in fantasy landscapes are featured at the BMA through Sept 19 in Wilderness, a survey show co-organized with the Aspen Museum of Art

The curator-centric show favors colorful, crafty, and playful work that transforms its banal context—two vacant floors of a Manhattan office building

This year, dozens of curators were invited to organize exhibitions around the theme HEARSAY:HERESY—a timely prompt in this age of fake news and ever raging culture wars, yet one that often manifested in decidedly Medieval aesthetics.