Opening: Louise Bonnet’s ‘Sphinxes’ Exalts the Power of Female Physicality

Much has been said about the mental and psychological effects of the COVID-19 crisis – especially as we have had to collectively process the deaths of more than 3.5 million fellow human beings, all whilst wondering whether or not we might be added to that statistic at any given moment. It was a collective grief probably not known since the great World Wars – and a grief that was circumstantially felt more disproportionately by women.

More than a year of lockdown/quarantine has also meant a heightened awareness of our own physicality – cut off as we were from most of our usual means of exercise, and minus the so many outside entertainments of our normal everyday lives. We also consumed in such a way as to cultivate comfort over health, in hopes of possibly countering the considerable fear we faced down daily (does that ever work?).

So Louise Bonnet‘s new exhibition Sphinxes, just opened at Gagosian’s Rheinsprung 1 gallery in Basel, is of a particular relevance. The provocative Swiss artist (now living and working in Los Angeles) has actually made a name by creating enigmatic portraits that greatly exaggerate and distort human features, with such features often charged with meaning and metaphor.

Here she once again very much forwards a view of the human body that rejects fashion/media cultivated notions of perfection, and thus shares some aesthetic and philosophical ground with the likes of Jenny Saville and Hans Bellmer. The new drawings – and one oil painting – intentionally refer back to Greek and Egyptian mythological views of women as gatekeepers and protectors; though in some instances there is an almost Pythonesque absurdity to her figures. Yet infused with power of essential femaleness, there is an awesomeness to the images that is so distinctly XX chromosome. To wit, in both Seated Sphinx Pink Marble, 2021, and Green Sphinx with Projections, 2021, the subjects vigorously shoot milk from their breasts, as if to remind that all life springs from their bodies, and that any challenges to their preeminence will be met with all the force of that life.

Yet Leaking Sphinx seems to be cautioning that she also greatly feels the unique stresses of contemporary life, and is often pushed to the brink of exhaustion, without enjoying the corresponding levels of empathy. This physical, mental and emotional fatigue has surely only been exacerbated during this long, ominous and insidious global pandemic.

“They are in between,” Bonnet reveals of her sphinxes, “in between animals and humans, in between resting and pouncing, in between sleep and wakefulness. I saw myself as the viewer, trying to get past them just before they saw me.”

They are a potent reminder, then, of women as the ultimate guardians of all life – which life has been under constant and elevated threat these last fifteen months.

Sphinxes is on view through July 31 at Gagosian’s Rheinsprung 1 gallery in Basel, Switzerland.

LOUISE BONNET
Kneeling Sphinx 1, 2021
Colored pencil on paper
19 x 24 in
48.3 x 61 cm
© Louise Bonnet
Photo: Jeff McLane
Courtesy Gagosian

LOUISE BONNET
Leaking Sphinx, 2021
Colored pencil on paper
19 x 24 in
48.3 x 61 cm
© Louise Bonnet
Photo: Jeff McLane
Courtesy Gagosian

LOUISE BONNET
Heroica, 2021
Colored pencil on paper
14 x 17 in
35.6 x 43.2 cm
© Louise Bonnet
Photo: Jeff McLane
Courtesy Gagosian

LOUISE BONNET
Green Sphinx with Projections, 2021
Colored pencil on paper
14 x 17 in
35.6 x 43.2 cm
© Louise Bonnet
Photo: Jeff McLane
Courtesy Gagosian

LOUISE BONNET
Seated Sphinx Pink Marble, 2021
Colored pencil on paper
24 x 19 in
61 x 48.3 cm
© Louise Bonnet
Photo: Jeff McLane
Courtesy Gagosian

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