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Louise Bourgeois. Visual Art’s “Femme Fatale.”

February 10, 2009

Louise Bourgeois was born on Christmas Day, 1911 in Paris, FranceShe was the middle child of three born to Josephine Fauriaux and Louis Bourgeois. Her family ran a tapestry gallery/workshop below their Paris apartment on the boulevard Saint Germain. From the age of 12 Bourgeois worked in the family business restoring tapestries, but at 15 she entered the Sorbonne to study mathematics.

Her studies of geometry contributed to her early cubist drawings. Still searching, she began painting, studying at the École du Louvre and then the École des Beaux-Arts, and worked as an assistant to Fernand Léger. In 1938 she moved with her American husband, Robert Goldwater, to New York City to continue her studies at the Art Students League of New York, feeling that she would not have stayed an artist had she continued to live in Paris. Wikipedia

From Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden:

The Blind Leading The Blind, 1947-1949 Painted wood construction,

70 3/8 x 96 7/8 x 17 3/8 in.

The Blind Leading The Blind

On the occasion of her retrospective exhibition at the Museum of Modern Art in 1982, Louise Bourgeois published a photo essay in Artforum magazine that revealed the impact of childhood trauma on her art. “Everything I do,” she exclaimed, “was inspired by my early life.”

At age eleven, she witnessed her father’s betrayal of his wife and three children when he initiated a ten-year affair with their live-in English tutor. During this period, Bourgeois also attended to her mother, who had succumbed to the Spanish Flu after the First World War. This familial triangle of sexual infidelity and illness cast the young artist in the most inappropriate of roles—as voyeur, accomplice, and nurturer—the combination of which left her with life-long psychic scars. Bourgeois’s diaries, which she has kept assiduously since 1923, indicate the tensions between rage, fear of abandonment, and guilt that she has suffered since childhood. It is through her art, however, that she has been able to channel and release these tensions.

In Bourgeois’s universe, art is a recuperative practice; it can invoke and heal the deepest emotional wounds. With this understanding, it is impossible to consider her richly symbolic oeuvre independently from the story of her life, which is documented in this exhibition with photographs, journals, and identification cards from her personal archives. A selection of images provides an overview of Bourgeois’s biography, illustrating the many intersecting and overlapping roles she has played, including venturesome student, dutiful daughter, loving wife and mother, and maverick artist whose work is ever contemporary and relevant to the times. —Nancy Spector, Chief Curator.  Guggenheim Museum, Sackler Center for Arts Education.

From Artnet and Hauser & Wirth Zürich London:

Torso, Self Portrait, 1963-64. Bronze with white patina,

h: 24.8 x w: 16 x d: 7.9 in.

Louise Bourgeois, Torso, Self Portrait

Bourgeois once stated, “The spiral is important to me. It is a twist. As a child, after washing the tapestries in the river, I would turn and twist and ring them with three others or more to ring the water out. Later I would dream of getting rid of my father’s mistress. I would do it in my dreams by ringing her neck. The spiral—I love the spiral—represents control and freedom.”

From  Metropolitan Museum of Art:

During the latter 1940s she produced prints at Atelier 17 in New York where she became friendly with the artists Le Corbusier, Joan Miró, and Yves Tanguy. Since about 1947–49, when she produced her first sculptural works, her imagery has been influenced by Surrealism, a movement that attracted her attention when a great number of European artists came to the New York area during World War II. In 1949 Peridot Gallery in New York exhibited these works for the first time. Her sculptures of the 1940s were composed groupings of elongated, carved wood totems, abstract in shape and painted in a uniform color. In the 1960s her work, which retained its Surrealist undertones, expanded in size and was executed in bronze, carved stone, and rubber latex. Bourgeois’s highly idiosyncratic style relies on an intensely personal vocabulary of anthropomorphic forms charged with sexual allusions.

Eyes, 1982. Marble; 74 3/4 x 54 x 45 3/4 in.

“Eyes” is a large marble sculpture that shows the persistence of Surrealist iconography in her late work. The eye, a recurring motif in Surrealism, served as both a symbol for the act of perception and as an allusion to female sexual anatomy. Perched on top of a massive marble block chiseled in various places to resemble a house (a recurring theme in her work) are two highly polished round balls with a carved circular opening at each center. As a unit they suggest a bold abstract head, a female torso, or the symbolic marriage of woman to home and family.

From Artnet and Kukje Gallery:

No Exit, 1989. Wood, painted metal and rubber,

h: 82.5 x w: 84 x d: 96 in

Louise Bourgeois, No Exit

From PBS. Art: 21

Though her beginnings were as an engraver and painter, by the 1940s she had turned her attention to sculptural work, for which she is now recognized as a twentieth-century leader. Greatly influenced by the influx of European Surrealist artists who immigrated to the United States after World War II, Bourgeois’s early sculpture was composed of groupings of abstract and organic shapes, often carved from wood. By the 1960s she began to execute her work in rubber, bronze, and stone, and the pieces themselves became larger, more referential to what has become the dominant theme of her work—her childhood. She has famously stated “My childhood has never lost its magic, it has never lost its mystery, and it has never lost its drama.”

From Artnet and Michele Mosko Fine Art:

Give or Take, 1990. Bronze,  h: 9 x w: 5 in

Louise Bourgeois, Give or Take

Deeply symbolic, her work uses her relationship with her parents and the role sexuality played in her early family life as a vocabulary in which to understand and remake that history. The anthropomorphic shapes her pieces take—the female and male bodies are continually referenced and remade—are charged with sexuality and innocence and the interplay between the two.

From San Francisco Museum of Modern Art:

The Nest, 1994. Steel, 101 in. x 189 in. x 158 in.

The Nest

The Nest is one of the earliest and most complex of the spider sculptures that Bourgeois created between 1994 and 1997. It blends sculpture with drawing through its ingenious use of legs as both sculptural objects and lines in space. Bourgeois repeatedly explored the spider, her self-selected totem figure, because of its power to intermingle two- and three-dimensional relationships. “What is a drawing?” asks Bourgeois. “It is a secretion, like a thread in a spider’s web . . . . It is a knitting, a spiral, a spider web, a significant organization of space.”

The spider first appeared in Bourgeois’ drawings of the 1930s and 1940s, but it wasn’t until sixty years later that she adopted it as the subject of her sculpture. She has mused, “Spider: the mother cuts the spider’s web . . . . The friend (spider; why spider?). Because my best friend was my mother, and she was . . . (as) clever, patient and neat as a spider; she could also defend herself.” The mother figure in this sculpture nurtures and protects her brood while exuding a threatening presence. The spider may also be a self-portrait of the artist in her intertwined roles as mother and daughter, and as creator of works that are both seductive and menacing.

From Artnet and Cheim & Read:

Echo IV, 2007. Bronze painted white, and steel,

h: 36 x w: 12 x d: 12 in

Louise Bourgeois, Echo IV

Bourgeois’s work is in the collections of most major museums around the world. She lives in New York.

3 Comments leave one →
  1. donna cicero permalink
    June 2, 2010 2:37 am

    Magnificent works, Magnificent Woman

  2. December 2, 2010 9:58 pm

    you just have to get used to modern art to appreciate the beauty of it “:


  1. Louise Bourgeois and the leap of faith « Baroque in Hackney

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