May 15-June 9, 2021
Louise Bonnet’s third solo exhibition at Nino Mier Gallery convenes seven oil paintings, all completed one year into pandemic-induced quarantine. While these conditions have been marked by a sense of social isolation and attendant alienation for some, for others they have brought a surfeit of familial physical proximity and a concomitant dearth
of mental space, privacy, and restorative solitude. Fittingly for a group of works premiered on the precipice of the world’s tentative reopening, these paintings are inspired in part by a film about an uninhibited wanderer: Agnès Varda’s iconic Vagabond (1985).
The film offers a portrait of an enigmatic drifter named Mona who freely traverses the French countryside guided
by her own intuition. Especially compelling for Bonnet is the way in which Varda allows the protagonist to maintain the privacy of her own interiority throughout the film; though the audience is permitted glimpses into her life on the road, Mona’s motivations, emotions, and personal history remain opaque. Through the use of elliptical editing, Varda strings together a series of discontinuous vignettes that inhibit the viewer from gaining a foothold in Mona’s narrative or accessing her interior life. Following a similar strategy, Bonnet presents here a group of distinct yet thematically connected scenes that collectively grapple with a woman’s oft-thwarted longing to be alone with her thoughts—her desire to remain inscrutable and inaccessible in a world that expects women to be available and accommodating.
Set in cramped interior spaces, TitleTK[woman in white dress] (2021) and TitleTK[woman in brown dress] (2021) each feature a large figure clasping her hands together in a tight, tense gesture that is a performance of self-control. Like
a clenched jaw, this gesture belies a concerted effort to maintain composure, to exhibit restraint under psychological strife. In both works, two small creatures float on the periphery like sentries, simultaneously guarding the figure they flank and staking a claim to her. An impish presence, these childlike nymphs hover within the protagonist’s psychic space, making demands on her attention.
In a departure for Bonnet, several of the compositions are sited in expansive outdoor spaces. In TitleTK[pond]
(2021), four headless figures submerge their limbs in an inky indigo pond. A group of escapist bathers detached from overthinking brains, they release their bodies to the water. In TitleTK[looking to sea] (2021), a figure viewed from behind faces out from a grassy bank toward the open sea, the very picture of contemplative reverie. She remains tethered to land by the hand of a companion that holds her back, a reminder of social and filial responsibilities. TitleTk[In the woods] (2021) presents the exhibition’s most fraught scene, one characterized by vulnerability and violation. In a dark clearing in the woods, an aggressor physically overpowers a recumbent figure who retaliates in self-defense. This scene, which gestures obliquely to a sexual assault in Vagabond, expresses both intimacy and intrusion, trust and transgression, and explores one of the central thematics of Bonnet’s oeuvre: the sense of losing control and trying to gain it back.
The figures in these paintings are characteristically lumpen and rubbery, activated by scale shifts and outfitted
with outsized appendages. With flesh like putty—stretched and wrung, contorted and constrained—the bodies are expressive of their mental states. Bonnet’s signature helmets of blond hair anonymize the figures and protect them from the viewer’s gaze, which in turn allows for voyeurism without shame. In contrast to some of the artist’s earlier works featuring bodies that flop and flail and leak and drip, the works in [title of show TK] are more restrained. Like Varda’s film, they observe without dramatizing. Indeed, a shared ethos undoubtedly joins Varda’s film and Bonnet’s paintings, one guided by dignity and care for their subjects—empathy for their pain and respect for their privacy.
-Text by Susan Thompson
Louise Bonnet (b. 1970 in Geneva, Switzerland; lives and works in Los Angeles) has been exhibited in recent solo exhibitions at Gagosian Gallery, New York, Galerie Max Hetzler, London and Berlin; and Half Gallery, New York. Bonnet’s work has also been included in group exhibitions at Almine Rech Gallery, New York; Anton Kern Gallery, New York; and König Galerie, Berlin. Her work is represented in the permanent collections of the Hammer Museum, Los Angeles and the Los Angeles County Museum of Art.