[Note: Louise Bourgeois died in Manhattan on May 31, 2010]
With the Louise Bourgeois exhibition up at MOCA in Los Angeles, I cannot think of anything else. I heard that Louise's assistant, Jerry Gorovoy, was in town helping with the exhibition and I started wondering more and more about what occurs in Louise's studio. Jerry was already back in New York by the time I could get ahold of anyone, but Wendy Williams, the manager of the Louise Bourgeois Studio was so kind as to answer some of my burning questions over email.
- Sasha Bergstrom-Katz
Sasha Bergstrom-Katz: As a young artist, I am extremely intrigued by Louise's Sunday salons. Do either of you attend? If so, can you tell me about it? Or share an anecdote?
Wendy Williams: Yes, I've attended a few Salons over the years. It's open to all artists, writers, musicians and poets. The only requirement is that participants bring a sample of their own work to share with the others. Each Salon has its own character, depending on the participants. Sometimes it's like group therapy. Other times, things become hostile, with the Salon ending in tears or with people storming out. At best, the Salon provides an environment for pure discussion. At worst, participants come with the hope that Louise will further their career. Because of this, many years ago, Louise wrote "The Rules of the Salon:"
What do you do for a living?
How do you eat and pay your rent?
You have to go to a shelter for the homeless, or you may have to go to the hospital.
I am not an employment agency, and I am not a publishing firm.
You are invading my privacy, and I am going to call the police.
To call yourself an artist is not an excuse.
Unsolicited material ends in the garbage pail outside.
SBK: How does one get invited to these salons?
WW: The Salon is currently on hold. When it is being held, you have to make an appointment in advance with the Studio.
SBK: I am very curious to know how the studio looks. Is it clean? Messy? Filled with old and new work, or just new? Can you give me a brief description?
WW: In 1980, Louise acquired a large studio space in a poured concrete building in Brooklyn that was originally a garment factory. This space enabled her to make art at an unprecedented scale, such as her Cells and eventually the Spiders. She even incorporated some of the remaining contents (sewing machines, furniture, doors and shelving) into future pieces. You could always find both old and new work there. But when a large piece was completed, it was usually either taken apart or put into storage so as to make room for the next piece. Unfortunately, Louise had to move out in late 2005 when the buildings on her block were torn down in order to make room for a new sports center. Since then, her studio has exclusively been her Chelsea brownstone, with most works made on the table in the parlor.
SBK: How did you get involved in working in the studio?
WW: I worked at a gallery that represented Louise for almost 15 years. She was always one of my favorite artists. When I left there, I began working with Louise, and I've been here now for about 12 years.
SBK: Can you describe your day to day tasks in the studio? How hands on are you?
WW: Louise starts her day by working on sculpture. She then has a lunch break, and generally draws in the afternoon. Jerry Gorovoy, who has been her assistant since the early 1980s, is constantly at Louise's side providing her with whatever she needs. My work involves inventorying the art and working with photographers, framers and restorers. Both Jerry and I are in communication with Louise's galleries about consignments, sales, exhibitions, etc. as well as with museums about upcoming shows and publications.
SBK: I read a recent article about Louise's work in "Modern Painters" saying that she made a series of paintings of her hands along with her assistant's hands. Did those hands belong to either one of you? If so, what was that experience like? Do you work closely with her like that often?
WW: The 2006 hand colored suite of prints you are referring to is called 10 AM IS WHEN YOU COME TO ME. That's the time when Jerry arrives in the morning, and the piece shows his hands along with Louise's. Louise and Jerry's hands are also part of the bronze sculpture THE WELCOMING HANDS that is on permanent display in the Tuileries in Paris. Jerry was also the model for the bronze hanging sculpture from 1993 called ARCH OF HYSTERIA.
SBK: I know both of you were involved in this exhibition, and I believe Jerry was in Los Angeles working with the curators and installers at MOCA. Do you often get involved in the curatorial side of things?
WW: Generally speaking, Jerry and I collaborate with museums' curators to select the best checklist to fit their architectural setting. For the installation in Los Angeles, we did this with MoCA's curator Brooke Hodge, who was a pleasure to work with.
SBK: I'm sure this is a complicated question, but what is your relationship with Louise? I assume working in her studio creates a very intimate relationship.
WW: It's a special and unique experience to know Louise and to be surrounded by her art. She works with very few people, and we've all been working together and with Louise for a long time.
SBK: Are either of you or Jerry working artists? If so, how does working in Louise's studio impact and influence your work? If not, what are your other interests?
WW: Neither Jerry nor I are practicing artists. Working with Louise is all encompassing, and a privilege.
(Images from top to bottom: Louise Bourgeois's Brooklyn Studio, 1982, Photo: Allan Finkelman; Participants at Louise Bourgeois's Sunday Salon, 2001, Photo: Pouran Esrafily; Louise Bourgeois's Brooklyn Studio, 1995, Photo: Peter Bellamy; Louise Bourgeois, 10 AM IS WHEN YOU COME TO ME, 2006, Photo: Adam Rzepka; Louise Bourgeois, 2007, Photo: Dimitris Yeros)