Something is missing

Hairy Eyeball: Louise Bourgeois, Matt Furie, and Jay Howell fill in some gaps

Matt Furie brings the scooters and critters

Mama's goin' strong. Mama's movin' on. Mama's all alone. Mama doesn't care. Mama? Ma-ma-ma-mama? Mama's very alone (not to mention a bloody mess) in Louise Bourgeois' "Mother and Child," the nonagenarian artist's fifth exhibit at Gallery Paule Anglim.

Motherhood, in all its generative and suffocating capacities, has been something of an idée fixe for Bourgeois across her 60-year career — most famously in her Spider sculptures, whose spindly arachnids, the artist has said in interviews, are stand-ins for her mother. Their fractured, complicated relationship surfaces in other works as well, as has Bourgeois' own experiences as a mother.

Biographical context is secondary, though, to experiencing this recent group of maternally minded paintings and sculpture. "Mother and Child" packs a visceral punch that will be familiar to anyone who has seen The Brood (1979) or Rosemary's Baby (1968). Although certainly no horror film, the exhibition viscerally explores the flipside of the "miracle of birth": feelings of ambivalence, repulsion, and grief.




So proclaims part of the text in I Am Afraid (2009). Printed onto a large, woven cotton canvas, the words hang over the rest of the exhibit like a curse. They speak to the sense of loss that frequently figures as part of postpartum depression. In giving birth, the mother has lost part of herself; but she has also been cut off from the experience of that loss. This, Bourgeois seems to declare, is not just the cost of human procreation, but an inescapable component of artistic endeavor as well.

Surrounding I Am Afraid are a series of drawings in blood-red gouache, originally done on wet paper to allow the sanguine watercolor medium to dry in saturated blotches, depicts the cycle by which a woman is born, matures, and then gives birth, becoming a mother herself. The figures are crudely sketched, at once child-like and grotesque, but their affective power comes from the suggestiveness of their basic shapes.

The sagging ovals of the drawings' many fetal unborn, swollen bellies and rounded thighs are picked up in two tuberous bronze sculptures, Echo 1 and Echo IV (both from 2007). The sculptures' biomorphic forms evoke bodily interiors — internal organs, fatty tissue — even though they are hollow shells of something that was once exterior: castings of old sweaters that had been stuffed and soaked with liquid. Something is always missing.

If you need an upper, Jay Howell's got your fix. The 111 Minna curator's latest solo show, "Alligator Fuck House," crams enough DayGlo exuberance into the blink-and-you'll-miss-it A440 Gallery (certainly the smallest space in the cavernous 49 Geary) to set you smiling all afternoon. If you aren't blindsided by Mona Lisa, a mixed media avalanche that covers an entire wall, inspiration board-style, with Howell's neat pen and ink doodles ("This boner is sincere," reads one), vintage nudie mag clippings, and personal ephemera, then get in close to take in the framed drawings, each a rainbow unto itself.

Really Long Legs and Long Armed Fun smush together dozens of brightly hued Seussian figures that stretch their Mr. Fantastic-like appendages into long smears of color (and in Long Armed Fun, spell out the name of the game). Under the Leaves depicts a florid tree showering the ground with Fruity Pebbles foliage.

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