Gagosian Quarterly

October 5, 2020


Five Films: Louise Bonnet

In this series we invite artists and writers to tell us about works of art, literature, film, or music that have influenced their work or are at the forefront of their minds today. For this installment, Los Angeles painter Louise Bonnet reminisces about the films that influenced her development as an artist.

Still from Vertigo (1958), directed by Alfred Hitchcock. Photo: Paramount Pictures/Ronald Grant Archive/Alamy Stock Photo

Still from Vertigo (1958), directed by Alfred Hitchcock. Photo: Paramount Pictures/Ronald Grant Archive/Alamy Stock Photo

Louise Bonnet

In softly luminous portraits of bulging, distorted figures, Louise Bonnet explores sensations of discomfort and angst to probe the experience of what it means to inhabit a body. Her protagonists—faces and individuality obscured by stolid helmets of hair—are more akin to emotional receptacles than to people. Engaging in mundane domestic activities such as lying in bed or eating dinner, they appear in impossible contortions, body parts bursting out of scale and proportion. Photo: Lucas Michael

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I often refer to movies in my head, and they are probably how I learned to understand the world. As a child in cloistered Geneva, I did not have a TV and we rarely went to the movies; my parents listened only to the news or to classical music on records or the radio. I remember they had Janis Joplin’s Pearl and the Beatles’ “White Album,” but nothing much from after 1975. When I would see movies—and as a teenager, when VHS tapes became available—it had a profound effect. If you grow up without that kind of window on the world outside, when it comes in, it’s revelatory.

Vertigo, 1958

My mom took me to see Alfred Hitchcock’s Vertigo at a revival movie theater in Geneva when I was around twelve or thirteen. From the first minute, with its opening title sequence by Saul Bass, I was glued to my seat, and in a way, I still am. I was young enough to be freaked out by the ghost/reincarnation story line and then the narrative took a turn and became scarier and weirder than I could have imagined. There is this incredibly strong armature behind everything in the film—it is so tight, so perfect, even the people are perfect, corseted, contained. Every move and shot and detail is thought through and has a purpose, but they are out of control.

Things are so much scarier if there is a very rational base. Everything seems so normal at first—James Stewart is the epitome of normal—and the result is that you let yourself be led into the depths.

I read somewhere that Hitchcock tried to put lights in Kim Novak’s suit when she comes out and is finally looking the way James Stewart wants her to, so that she would glow in this way that you can’t figure out. It didn’t work, but the idea is so great—magic tricks to make your reality collapse. Tricking people’s brains into thinking what you want, and they don’t even know it’s happening. Like the first scene in Hitchcock’s Marnie (1964), where she is tightly clutching a very clearly vagina-shaped handbag under her arm for a really long take. The whole movie is about her vagina.

I was not surprised to learn that Hitchcock may have been sadistic; he builds these perfect setups for you that look so innocent, and then corrupts them and you in a slow, masterful, voyeuristic way. It’s really magic. I try to use these tricks in my work also. There are things behind that you can’t see . . .

Vagabond, 1985

Five Films: Louise Bonnet

Still from Vagabond (1985), directed by Agnès Varda. Photo: Moviestore Collection Ltd/Alamy Stock Photo

When Agnès Varda’s Vagabond came out in the 1980s, I was in the middle of being very confused about Madonna. At the time she was being sold (to me, or as I understood it) as a feminist who was unapologetically in charge of her sexuality. This may have been true, but to me her persona seemed to be steeped in exactly what men wanted from women, just in a more aggressive form. Writhing on the floor as a virgin in a bra—was that feminist, and was I supposed to emulate it?

Anyway, I saw Vagabond around the same time, and it was so far removed from any of that—these two women and how they reacted to their environments were so vastly different. I didn’t want to emulate the film’s protagonist either, of course, but she is so mysterious, secretive, complicated, and heartbreaking and so clearly in complete opposition to the Madonna persona. The film never explains why she is on the road and homeless, and she makes no excuses for her actions or behavior. Varda never judges her but rather shows her with unobtrusive empathy—to us she is a real, full human, even though we know almost nothing about her. Shooting on film gives the misery and dirt of her environment a transcendence and dignity; the light and some of the images of the countryside reminded me of van Gogh.

Being John Malkovich, 1999

Five Films: Louise Bonnet

Spike Jonze and John Malkovich on the set of Being John Malkovich, 1999. Photo: AF archive/Alamy Stock Photo

When I saw Being John Malkovich, I was in LA and working for the streetwear brand xlarge. Spike Jonze, who directed the movie, was around, and had even made a small short for the company. A couple of my friends worked on the movie too, so seeing it was completely exciting and felt really close. But most importantly, it gave me the feeling that you really could do whatever you wanted, that you should do whatever you wanted, that if you just let it fly, you could get, and give to other people, this feeling of being rushed into a wave or something.

Maybe for me the movie captures the feeling of youth, when you are invincible and inventing everything. It’s still rare to see a movie and truly have no idea what will happen next—how did Charlie Kaufman think to write all of this? I hate and love the feeling of intense jealousy when I see something that I think is really good, something that I will never get close to approaching. That usually happens when the artist has let go of trying to get your approval, of trying to be friends with you, the viewer, or listener, or reader. That disregard is insulting and awe-inspiring at the same time.

Under the Skin, 2013

Five Films: Louise Bonnet

Still from Under the Skin (2013), directed by Jonathan Glazer. Photo: AA Film Archive/Alamy Stock Photo

I loved Jonathan Glazer’s Under the Skin for so many reasons, but mostly all the minutiae. Not much happens throughout most of the movie; it’s just a succession of hypnotic, transfixing images, a mix between 2001: A Space Odyssey and William Eggleston with a slow, whooshing heartbeat. The sounds in it are something I still think about, as well as the lack of sound where it should be. Removing something will sometimes make it more visible.

This is again a movie that doesn’t try to explain itself; it trusts the viewer to understand, and it is full of secrets. I am interested in secrets and minutiae in my own work. You can build trust that people will feel without revealing everything. There is beautiful, precise technique, giving structure and a platform to the movie, to the small details. It is also about control and trying to let go, trying to escape control. Visually it is one of the movies I feel closest to—I love the mix of high and low, of technique at the service of making what is smaller or baser more visible. If you try to constrain and control everything, things will come out in worse, more spectacular, interesting ways, like how squeezing a balloon will deform its shape and make it explode.

La haine, 1995 

Five Films: Louise Bonnet

Still from La haine (1995), directed by Mathieu Kassovitz. Photo: Album/Alamy Stock Photo

Everything that’s going on right now—the racial tensions, the well-deserved rage—reminds me of Mathieu Kassovitz’s film La haine. When it came out, French movies (not all, but a lot of them) could still be very old-school, very stilted, with actors enunciating every letter—they were acting. Watching La haine was probably what seeing nouvelle vague movies for the first time felt like. Like nouvelle vague or Italian neorealism, the film looks without sentiment at people and situations that weren’t usually shown in movies. The dialogue is so fast and real, not stylized, and it communicates the deadening boredom and alienation of life in the banlieues. The characters talk about nothing interesting, they’re boring and unlikable as well as funny most of the time, but you know they are real and you care about them. They move through landscapes and through a Paris that has none of its usual romanticized or sentimentalized aspects, and it feels so urgent, so like life. Everything turns in one second that you don’t really see coming, which feels like this is the way it would be in life. There is so much work behind making something that seems completely natural, when you need to be completely fearless so the message will get heard.

Louise Bonnet in her Los Angeles studio, 2020

Louise Bonnet

Filmmaker and author Miranda July joined Louise Bonnet on a video call to discuss life during lockdown, the luminosity of oil paint, and Bonnet’s forthcoming exhibition of new work. Longtime friends—and newly neighbors—the two reflect on their shared history and shared interests in the unconscious, vagueness, and the mixture of humor and pain.

The crowd at the public funeral of Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., in April 1968. Photo by Moneta Sleet Jr.

Now available
Gagosian Quarterly Fall 2020

The Fall 2020 issue of Gagosian Quarterly is now available.

Photo: Moneta Sleet, Jr., 1965. Johnson Publishing Company Archive. Courtesy Ford Foundation, J. Paul Getty Trust, John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, and Smithsonian Institution.

Theaster Gates: Black Image Corporation

As a prelude to his first-ever solo exhibition in New York, Theaster Gates discusses his prescient work with the photographic archive of Chicago’s Johnson Publishing Company and his formation of Black Image Corporation as a conceptual project. In conversation with Louise Neri, he expands on his strategies as artist and social innovator in his quest to redeem and renew the sacred power of Black images and Black space. 

Andy Warhol cover design for the magazine Aspen 1, no. 3.

Artists’ Magazines

Gwen Allen recounts her discovery of cutting-edge artists’ magazines from the 1960s and 1970s and explores the roots and implications of these singular publications.

Exterior of Museu de Arte de São Paulo. Photo: Eduardo Ortega

Multiplo–Diverso–Plural: Museu de Arte de São Paulo

Louise Neri speaks with Adriano Pedrosa, artistic director of the Museu de Arte de São Paulo (MASP), about the history of this unique Brazilian museum and his vision for its future.

Featuring Joan Jonas’s Mirror Piece 1 (1969) on its cover.

Now available
Gagosian Quarterly Summer 2020

The Summer 2020 issue of Gagosian Quarterly is now available, featuring Joan Jonas’s Mirror Piece 1 (1969) on its cover.

Stanley Whitney, Roma 20, 2020 (detail).

The Space Is in the Color: Stanley Whitney

Stanley Whitney reflects on the evolution of his work with Louise Neri, from his formative early days in New York to the pivotal period he spent living and working in Rome, arriving at the highly distinctive paintings for which he is now known. They explore the diverse and surprising influences of art and music on Whitney’s oeuvre, as well as his process and practice.

Stanley Whitney in his New York studio, surrounded by paintings and drawings

Stanley Whitney: Rhythm and Vision

While preparing his first exhibition with Gagosian, in Rome, Stanley Whitney speaks with Louise Neri in his New York studio about how he arrived at his unique and intuitive approach to color and space in painting, employing a dynamic fusion of preordained structure and improvisation.

A black-and-white portrait of Daniel-Henry Kahnweiler seated at a desk in front of a painting by Pablo Picasso.

Game Changer
Daniel-Henry Kahnweiler

Michael Cary pays homage to the visionary dealer Daniel-Henry Kahnweiler (1884–1979).

George Tjungurrayi's orange abstract painting Untitled—Kirrimalunya, polymer paint on linen.

Desert Painters of Australia

Steve Martin and Anne Stringfield’s collection of contemporary Indigenous Australian painting spans three generations of the “Desert Painters” of remote regions of Central and Western Australia. Louise Neri talks with Martin about his collecting passion, and about an exhibition that presents works from their collection along with a key loan from the Kluge-Ruhe Aboriginal Art Collection at the University of Virginia. Their conversation is followed by commentary on these works by Martin’s friend Fred Myers, a longtime aficionado of the Desert artists.

Charlotte Perriand in her studio on place Saint-Sulpice, Paris, 1928. The hands holding a plate halolike behind her head are Le Corbusier’s.

The New World of Charlotte Perriand

Inspired by a visit to the Fondation Louis Vuitton’s exhibition Charlotte Perriand: Inventing a New World, William Middleton explores the life of this modernist pioneer and her impact on the worlds of design, art, and architecture.

A painting with gold frame by Louis Michel Eilshemius. Landscape with single figure.

Eilshemius and Me: An Interview with Ed Ruscha

Ed Ruscha tells Viet-Nu Nguyen and Leta Grzan how he first encountered Louis Michel Eilshemius’s paintings, which of the artist’s aesthetic innovations captured his imagination, and how his own work relates to and differs from that of this “Neglected Marvel.”