Louise Bourgeois: Holograms

[From The Gallery Insider Series]

Louise Bourgeois: Holograms is the first exhibition devoted exclusively to Bourgeois's little-known series of holograms, which she created with the help of C-Project, a NYC-based fine arts holographic studio. The exhibition took place at Cheim & Read Gallery at 547 West 25th Street in New York from January 5 - February 11, 2017.


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The exhibition was not the main show in the gallery that month; it was installed in the back room, which added to the impact of finding these small glowing red art works surrounding a sculpture on the floor in the rear gallery. Below is a short video to give an initial view of the installation; scroll down below the video for more.

As you can see from the video, the holograms appear dark when seen from certain angles, yet the bright red light glowing from within turns up in full explosive color when viewed straight on. Positioning oneself for the direct view reveals dream-like imagery, including miniature chairs, a bell jar, and the entwined abstracted figures who can be seen in the welded steel and lead sculpture on the floor in the center of the gallery.

You can see another example of how the experience of viewing these holograms differs based on your angle in relation to the art work: below left is "Plate 3" as viewed from approximately 30 degrees to the right of the piece, and below right is the full straight on view of the same art work. What this means is that as one walks around the exhibition, each piece comes to life from near-darkness to full brightness as the piece is approached.

Plate 3 from the Louise Bourgeois Hologram exhibition

Essential Question #1: How are holograms made?

A holographic image is created by projecting and splitting a laser beam that records the light reflected from the object from different angles, and then burns the result onto a plate of glass. The initial laser beam is split by a special lens which acts like a half-mirror, in that half of the laser light goes through, and the other half is reflected to the side. Once the laser beam is split like this, it bounces off two additional mirros which then capture the light from different angles. You can see a simplified illustration of this concept in the image at right.

The image is scaled at a one-to-one correspondence with the original subject material, so that looking at these holograms conveys the sensation of looking at the real object, but in a dream-like state. The striking saturated red color of these holograms by Louise Bourgeois are meant to recall the red light illumination of an old-fashioned photographic darkroom. This is totally an artistic decision; the holographic process provides a base color of either red or blue, and Bourgeois decided to use the red hue in its most-pure form.

When the split laser beam is joined back together, it burns the image permanently into the photographic plate, positioned behind the object. The hologram then is effectively recording what something looks like - and how the light hits the object - as seen from multiple angles.

basic explanation of how the holograms are made for Louise Bourgeois

Essential Question #2: Who invented holograms?

The concept of holography is credited to a Hungarian-born physicist named Dennis Gabor (1900–1979), who in the early 1950s discovered a way of producing images with the illusion of depth. Lasers were not invented until the 1960s, at which time scientists expanded upon Gabor's ideas and created the first practical optical holograms, including work in 1962 by the Russian scientist Yuri Denisyuk and by American scientists Emmett Leith and Juris Upatnieks at the University of Michigan. But Gabor is still credited for the concept, for which he was awarded the Nobel Prize in Physics in 1971.

Below are individual views of more holograms from this exhibition. Below left is "Plate 8," measuring 13 x 11 inches, and below right is "Plate 7," measuring 11 x 14 inches.

Louise Bourgeois Hologram Plate 8

Louise Bourgeois Hologram Plate 7

Below left is "Plate 2," measuring 13 x 11 inches, and below right is "Plate 1," measuring 14 x 9 inches.

Louise Bourgeois Hologram Plate 2

Louise Bourgeois Hologram Plate 1

Louise Bourgeois was born in Paris in 1911, and early in her career was associated with Surrealism due to her integration of fantastic elements into her prints and sculptures. She moved to New York in 1938 and lived there until her death in 2010. In 1973, Bourgeois started teaching at the Pratt Institute, Cooper Union, Brooklyn College and the New York Studio School of Drawing, Painting and Sculpture. She also taught for many years in the public schools in Great Neck, Long Island. Her work appears in the most important museum collections worldwide and has been the subject of several major traveling retrospectives organized by the Tate Modern, London; Centre Georges Pompidou, Paris; The Brooklyn Museum; and The Kunstverein, Frankfurt.

Learn more about Louise Bourgeois here.




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