Echoing Bourgeois’ masterpiece, Quarantania I of 1947-53 from the collection of New York’s Museum of Modern Art, the individual elements of Distant Figures are similar enough in form and material to co-exist as a family unit. For Bourgeois, family was a concept fraught with contradictory impulses of comfort and trauma, based on the emotional stress caused by her father’s infidelity during her childhood and strained by her mother’s chronic illness and death. Just as Bourgeois’ famous Spider sculptures are described by her both as nurturing and threatening, the very closeness of the huddled forms of marble create their separation from the viewer. Even within the group, heights and color tones vary while the component closest to the viewer exhibits traits, in its short scale and surface treatment, that mark it as an individual within the crowd, reminiscent of the title of Bourgeois’ sculpture of 1955, One and the Others.
Bourgeois traveled to Italy from 1967 to 1972 where she worked on cast bronzes and marble sculptures. The artist reveled in the use of different mediums to capture the essence of her conceptual content, stating that ”When you want to say something, you consider saying it in different ways, just as a composer would play in different keys, or different instruments.” (Lynn F. Miller and Sally S. Swenson, Lives and Works: Talks with Women Artists, New Jersey, 1981, pp. 5-6) In the 1960s, Bourgeois experimented with many malleable materials for her sculptures, including plaster and latex, allowing for more feminine and softer forms, many of which she later realized in marble. Even when captured in stone, the cloud-like mounds of Cumul I of 1969 (Musée nationale d’art moderne, Centre Pompidou, Paris) and the cylindrical forms of the present work all retain an organic and fluid aura. The medium of marble also allowed Bourgeois to either carve the work as a whole or integrate individual elements onto a marble base as in Distant Figures. This collaging of forms, each attached separately onto her expansive marble plain, accentuates the sense of individuality within community that brings to mind Alberto Giacometti’s City Square of 1948, another modernist masterpieces of attenuated figures reduced to their essence on a narrowly defined and anonymous space.
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