Office—Courtald Institute of Art, Somerset House, Strand, London WC2R 0RN, England. E-mail—[email protected]
Writer, editor, art historian, and educator. Bard College, educator; Courtald Institute, University of London, lecturer in the history of American art and senior lecturer in art history, 1996-2006, professor of art history, 2006—, associate dean for academic affairs, 2007—. Terra Foundation for the Arts Senior Scholar, 2007.
Getty Post-doctoral Fellowship, 1999-2000; Clark Art Institute fellowship, 2006.
(Editor, with Martha Buskirk) The Duchamp Effect, MIT Press (Cambridge, MA), 1996.
(Editor) Eva Hesse, MIT Press (Cambridge, MA), 2002.
Fantastic Reality: Louise Bourgeois and a Story of Modern Art, MIT Press (Cambridge, MA), 2005.
Managing editor of October (journal), and member of editorial board, 2000—.
Mignon Nixon is an art historian who serves as a senior lecturer at the Courtald Institute, University of London. She holds the distinction of being the institute's first lecturer in the history of art, beginning in 1996. She became professor of art history at the Courtald Institute in 2006, and in 2007 assumed additional responsibilities as the institute's associate dean for academic affairs. In this position, she works primarily in the area of research degrees. As a scholar, Nixon specializes in modern art, contemporary art, and related areas of art theory. She "writes on post-war and contemporary art in a theoretical perspective and is especially interested in questions of feminism, subjectivity, and gender," according to the Courtald Institute Web site.
"Nixon's beautiful and provocative new monograph Fantastic Reality: Louise Bourgeois and a Story of Modern Art makes the case that neither Surrealism—which the artist herself disavowed—nor biography are sufficient singular lenses for understanding Bourgeois's art," noted Julia Bryan-Wilson in the Art Bulletin. Instead, Nixon "posits an interplay between art and psychoanalysis without reductively psychoanalyzing the artist," Bryan-Wilson observed. As an overarching theme, Nixon "explores the significance of the death drive at the beginning rather than at the end of life: that is, within infantile subject formation as delineated by the pioneering object-relations psychoanalyst Melanie Klein," Bryan-Wilson reported.
"While Bourgeois's art has been subject to feminist psychoanalytic readings, informed by Sigmund Freud, Jacques Lacan, and Luce Irigaray, Nixon's pioneering book asserts that her art is above all Kleinian," Bryan-Wilson wrote. Bourgeois, who had once considered becoming a child psychologist, was thoroughly familiar with psychoanalytic theory and with Klein's work. However, in the author's analysis, "Nixon does not force a Kleinian template onto Bourgeois's objects; instead, she presents a lucid dialogue between the art and the theory, explicating resonances between Klein's influential theories about childhood aggression and the artworks, while also using the artist's practice as a springboard for her extended meditations on Klein's case studies," Bryan-Wilson stated. Nixon considers a wide swath of the artist's career, covering material from the 1940s to the 1990s. In particular, she explores Klein's influence on Bourgeois's sculptures, but she also assesses other media in which the artist worked, including photography, engravings, performance, and drawing. Nixon examines the point at which both art and psychoanalysis connect and where they make meaning, separately and together, within the context of the book. Nixon finds, for example, distinct connections between Bourgeois's interest in the formation of the mind in children and her sculptural works from the 1960s.
Nixon thoroughly explores how Bourgeois's works can lead to greater understanding of the thinking of Klein, to greater appreciation of psychoanalysis in general, and to the position that art can occupy within the clinical psychoanalytic setting. "This is one of Nixon's most consistently impressive feats: convincing the reader that the art has something to say to the analyst beyond serving as a diagnostic tool, that it can expose contradictions or extend theoretical readings—that art, in effect, discursively contributes to psychoanalytic debates," Bryan-Wilson commented.
With Fantastic Reality, Nixon has written a "detailed story of Louise Bourgeois' fascinating career and life," commented Leonardo Online Web site reviewer Rob Harle. She "has done an excellent job of producing, not only a detailed, exceptionally well researched scholarly work, but at the same time, a personable story that is a fairly easy read," Harle remarked. Bryan-Wilson concluded: "Nixon's elegant book provides a fresh way of thinking about the richness and strangeness of Bourgeois's practice and about the broader psychic dimensions of creating and looking at art."
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
Art Bulletin, December, 2007, Julia Bryan-Wilson, review of Fantastic Reality: Louise Bourgeois and a Story of Modern Art, p. 823.
Women: A Cultural Review, August, 2006, Stina Barchan, "Desire and Aggression," review of Fantastic Reality, p. 264.
Courtauld Institute of Art Web site,http://www.courtauld.ac.uk/ (July 16, 2008), biography of Mignon Nixon.
Leonardo Online,http://www.leonardo.info/ (July 16, 2008), Rob Harle, review of Fantastic Reality.
Sterling and Francine Clark Art Institute Web site,http://www.clarkart.edu/ (July 16, 2008), biography of Mignon Nixon.