Madame d’Ora—born Dora Kallmus in Vienna in 1881—was the first woman admitted into the Association of Austrian Photographers. Documenting the leading lights of Viennese culture and fashion—her first portrait was of Gustav Klimt—the Francophile lenswoman opened a studio in Paris in 1925, shooting Maurice Chevalier, Josephine Baker, and Gabrielle Chanel, among others.
When the Nazis overran the French capital in 1940, d’Ora fled to Ardèche, in the southeast. After the war—most of her family were murdered in the camps—she returned to Paris and began a series of portraits of displaced persons and Parisian slaughterhouses.
Madame d’Ora, fanned by the wing of genius, strolls in a labyrinth whose minotaur goes from the Dolly Sisters to the terrible bestiary of the slaughterhouses—where this ageless woman, more lucid than any young man, brushes the killers aside with a gesture and sets up her camera in their stead in front of the daily sacrifice of our carnivorous cult. — Jean Cocteau, 1958
MADAME D’ORA—the exhibition curently on view at the Neue Galerie in Manhattan—is the largest museum retrospective on the photographer to date in this country.
Early in May 1930, Picasso was horrified to discover that a number of early works he had left in the family’s Barcelona apartment for safekeeping had been stolen and were being offered for sale on the Paris market. After realizing the extent of the theft—391 drawings and ten paintings—he brought a lawsuit against the perpetrators… The fight to get his early work back would last eight years. It would stir up a storm of animosity and set Picasso against his mother and his sister’s family in Barcelona…
“How well I understand,” Picasso concluded, “why papas and mamas tell their children to stop scribbling on bits of paper. The brats don’t realize the difficulties this will create in the future.” — John Richardson, A Life of Picasso*
The exhibition PICASSO AND PAPER explores the artist’s manipulation of the medium, bringing together his prints, studies, collages, letters, illustrated poems, photographic collaborations with Dora Maar, and endless drawings—on artist’s paper, on newsprint, on napkins, “scribbling on bits of paper.”
At the center of the film is this idea that there is no muse, or that it’s a beautiful word for hiding the reality of how women have been collaborating with artists. I wanted to portray the intellectual dialog and not to forget that there are several brains in the room. We see how art history reduces the collaboration between artists and their companions: before, a muse was this fetishized, silent, beautiful woman sitting in the room, whereas we now know that Dora Maar, the “muse” of Picasso, was this great Surrealist photographer. And Gabrièle Buffet-Picabia, the companion of Picabia, was intensely involved in his evolution…
I wanted to portray the reality of that in the process of actually making a film in strong collaboration with my actresses. — Céline Sciamma, writer and director of PORTRAIT OF A LADY ON FIRE
Sciamma and her stars—Noémie Merlant and Adèle Haenel—are in town to present a special screening of PORTRAIT OFA LADY ON FIRE, followed by a Q & A. Three days later, the writer-director will present an encore screening.
Violence is what pleases me most—I feel at ease in it—I adore frightening people… but after I have atrocious fears… if I do not succeed in expressing myself in violence (in a civilized manner if possible) depression and self-destruction appear. — Louise Bourgeois*
Among the commonalities—and there are more than a few—shared by Louise Bourgeois and Pablo Picasso: they both had long, protean artistic careers marked by very strong late period work focused on eroticism and intimacy, often in the form of “the couple.” This point is examined with great sensitivity in the exhibition catalog LOUISE BOURGEOIS & PABLO PICASSO—ANATOMIESOF DESIRE, a masterpiece of scholarship and visual documentation published by Hauser & Wirth in coincidence with the eponymous Zürich exhibition.
Edited by Marie-Laure Bernadac, the show’s curator, the volume presents extensive, beautifully reproduced “intentional pairings” of the artists’ work as well as writings by curators (Émilie Bouvard and Bernadac), a psychoanalyst (Gérard Wajcman), and Bourgeois’ assistant and closest confident during the last thirty years of her life—Jerry Gorovoy.
Of particular interest are essays by Picasso’s granddaughter, the art historian and curator Diana Widmaier Picasso (“Pregnant Woman: In the Work of Louise Bourgeois and Pablo Picasso”) and Ulf Küster (“Femme couteau—Thoughts on an Idea in the Oeuvre of Louise Bourgeois”), the curator whose Fondation Beyeler exhibition A l’infini (2011)—a show of Bourgeois’ sculptures in conversation with work by Fernand Léger, Francis Bacon, Alberto Giacometti, and Picasso—inspired ANATOMIES OF DESIRE.
Bourgeois frequently explored the theme of knife and woman in her art. As is often the case in her work, her subject not only concerns an object but also an action that cannot be seen apart from that object… Her works furthermore seem to have an immediate and urgent presence for her, one that extends beyond their makeup as mere objects; in Camille Guichard’s 1993 documentary, for example, she speaks about sculptures as persons…
It would go too far to cite “animism” in this context, and even the term “fetish” likewise does not seem appropriate because the implied religious aspect is completely lacking in Bourgeois’ oeuvre. But her works are nevertheless charged with her emotions, primarily addressing herself and yet provoking reactions. Her relationship to her own works seems to be of greater significance for her than the relationship of the work to the public. — Ulf Küster**
*Louise Bourgeois, letter to her husband, art historian Robert Goldwater, November 13, 1969, cited in Ulf Küster, “Femme couteau—Thoughts on an Idea in the Oeuvre of Louise Bourgeois,”** in Louise Bourgeois & Pablo Picasso: Anatomies of Desire, exhibition catalog (Zürich: Hauser & Wirth Publishers, 2019), 70–82.