Louise Bourgeois  

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Kunstformen der Natur (1904) by Ernst Haeckel
Kunstformen der Natur (1904) by Ernst Haeckel

Louise Bourgeois (December 25, 1911 – May 31, 2010) was a French-born American artist and sculptor. Her most famous works are possibly the spider structures, titled Maman, from the last dozen years.

She is thought to have invented confessional art, and influenced the feminist movement as well as modern artists such as Damien Hirst and Tracey Emin. Previously regarded by her fellow artists as one of the most important artists in the world, Bourgeois came to greater public attention later in life.


Personal life

Louise Bourgeois was born in Paris, France. Her parents repaired tapestries.

At 12, she started helping them draw the missing segments of the tapestries. At 15 she studied mathematics at the Sorbonne. 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.

In 2007, a "major retrospective" her artwork was put together by the Tate Modern museum in London.

In 2009 she and the Easton Foundation bought her neighbor William Ivey Long's townhouse in Manhattan for $4.75 million.

She lived and worked in New York City until her death on May 31, 2010 at the age of 98. She continued displaying until the end of her life.


She is best known for her Cells, Spiders, drawings, books and sculptures. Her works are sometimes abstract and she speaks of them in symbolic terms with the main focus being "relationships" - considering an entity in relation to its surroundings. Louise Bourgeois finds inspiration for her works from her childhood: her adulterous father, who had an affair with her governess (who resided in the home), and her mother, who refused to acknowledge it. She claims that she has been the "striking-image" of her father since birth. Bourgeois conveys feelings of anger, betrayal and jealousy, but with playfulness. In her sculpture, she has worked in many different mediums, including rubber, wood, stone, metal, and appropriately for someone who came from a family of tapestry makers, fabric. Her pieces consist of erotic and sexual images and also forms found in nature, such as her sculpture, Cumuls (referring to clouds in the sky) and Nature Study. Although she has worked with spider imagery since the 1940s, perhaps her most famous works are the spider sculptures from 1994 to 2003. This includes her famous sculpture, Maman.

Bourgeois exhibited her paintings in New York in the early 1940s. She made her sculptural debut at the Peridot Gallery in 1949 in an exhibition entitled, “Louise Bourgeois, Recent Work 1947-1949: Seventeen Standing Figures in Wood”. Despite early success in that show, with one of the works being purchased for the Museum of Modern Art, Bourgeois was subsequently ignored by the art market during the fifties and sixties. It was in the seventies, after the deaths of her husband and father, that she became a successful artist.


In 1982 New York's Museum of Modern Art put on a retrospective of Bourgeois' work. This was the first retrospective the museum had ever mounted of a woman sculptor. In 1993 she represented the United States at the Venice Biennale. In 1999 she participated in the Melbourne International Biennial 1999. In 2000 Bourgeois was commissioned for the inaugural installation at Turbine Hall of Bankside Power Station, opening as the new Tate Modern museum (May 12 to November 26). Bourgeois displayed a thirty foot steel and marble Spider called Maman (1999) and three steel architectural towers called I Do, I Undo and I Redo (1999–2000) which employed the use of staircases and mirrors and incorporated fabric and marble sculptures within the interiors.

Bourgeois' sculptures incorporate a sense of vulnerability and fragility. Her works are often viewed to have a sense of sexuality to them, which she believed is a large part of both vulnerability and fragility.


Major retrospective (2007–2009)

In 2007, the Tate Modern museum in London organized a major retrospective of Bourgeois’s work which was exhibited October 2007-2008. This exhibition later travelled to the Centre Georges Pompidou in Paris and the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum in New York in 2008. In 2009, the exhibition travelled to the Museum of Contemporary Art in Los Angeles and Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden in Washington DC.

Other exhibitions (2008–2009)

The Museo Nazionale di Capodimonte exhibited sixty of Bourgeois’s works spanning her career, juxtaposed with the paintings and objects from the prestigious collection of the Capodimonte Museum (October 17 to January 25, 2009).

Inverleith House in the Royal Botanical Gardens in Edinburgh, Scotland exhibited “Nature Study” (May 3 to July 6), a two-part exhibition pairing Bourgeois’s new series of red gouache drawings and three small sculptures with the Botanical Teaching Diagrams of John Hutton Balfour (1808–1884). Psychologically charged, Bourgeois’s drawings engage with the great cycles of life—motherhood, birth, death, and regeneration. Thematically, both bodies of work deal with nature, fertility, fecundity, growth, survival, and decay. A two-volume catalogue was published, representing both installations.

Galerie Hauser & Wirth in Zurich exhibited "Louise Bourgeois: La Rivière Gentille" (June 1 to July 26). A metaphor for memory, for a life looked back upon, Louise Bourgeois’s La Rivière Gentille (2007) is an astonishingly beautiful series on paper. Made up of 42 mixed media sheets, each almost a metre long, the series interweaves imagery and phrases from a text the artist wrote in the mid-‘60s which looks back upon her childhood in France.

Cheim & Read in New York showed “Louise Bourgeois: Echo” (September 9 to November 1). The exhibited sculptures are evocative of Bourgeois’s Personages of the late 1940s to the mid 1950s. The earlier pieces, assembled constructions of painted wood, represent missed family and friends. The recent sculptures, entitled ECHO, date from 2007 and are similarly anthropomorphous and are redolent of reverberations from the past. Cast from her own discarded clothing that Bourgeois has variously stretched, sewn, draped and piled into abstract, organic forms, the bronzes are then painted white to give a ghostly aura to the textured surfaces. Bourgeois began using her clothing as material for her art in the mid-1990s. The re-appropriation of her wardrobe and linens conjures the fraught territory of domesticity and familial hierarchies, but does so in the most personal of terms. Ever present in Bourgeois’s work, inherent contradictions make the sculptures resistant to any easy interpretation—they are at once soft and hard, cold and warm, nurturing and distant. Also exhibited are Bourgeois’s gouache drawings of 2007 that depict the processes of motherhood, from conception and pregnancy to birth and beyond. Bourgeois’s blood red paint is at once bodily and ethereal – the paint, applied “wet on wet” – was allowed to bleed and coalesce, leaving a range of organic, accidental marks, that compliment the corporeal nature of the imagery.

Bourgeois last exhibition in Venice (2010)

From 5 June to 19 September an exhibition entitles "Fabric Drawings" opens in Venice at the Fondazione Emilio e Annabianca Vedova. Presenting the work of Louise Bourgeois, it has been curated by Germano Celant in collaboration with Jerry Gorovoy of the Studio Bourgeois, New York and is the last exhibition in which she was actively involved. On show in the Venetian space, in an architectural setting designed to house drawings and sculptures, will be her almost unknown output of works made out of fabric, such as the rich series of her Fabric Drawings, created between 2002 and 2008, and the light presence of her Cells, like Conscious and Unconscious, 2008. Bourgeois passed away from a heart attack on May 31, 2010.

Bourgeois as inspiration for future generations of artists

In October 2007, The Observer interviewed a number of British contemporary artists, Rachel Whiteread, Dorothy Cross, Stella Vine, Richard Wentworth and Jane and Louise Wilson, about how Louise Bourgeois's art inspired them, in an article called Kisses for Spiderwoman. Vine described Bourgeois as one of the "greatest ever artists" and said that "few female artists have been recognised as truly important". She said there was a "juxtaposition of sinister, controlling elements and full-on macho materials with a warm, nurturing and cocoon-like feminine side" that appears within Bourgeois' art. Vine also described Bourgeois as: ""incredible: she's known all these great men and outlived them all."

On 12 November 2007, leading British artists Antony Gormley, Tracey Emin and Stella Vine again, were all interviewed by Alan Yentob for BBC One's series Imagine in the documentary Spiderwoman about the life and art of Louise Bourgeois.

Honors and awards

  • (1991) Lifetime Achievement in Contemporary Sculpture Award, International Sculpture Center, Hamilton, NJ, USA.
  • (1997) National Medal of Arts.
  • (2008) The French Legion of Honor medal, presented by President Sarkozy to Louise Bourgeois at artist’s Chelsea home in September.

Documentary on the artist

Bourgeois' life, career, and creative process is examined in the 2008 documentary film Louise Bourgeois: The Spider, the Mistress and the Tangerine.

See also

List of artworks by Louise Bourgeois

Unless indicated otherwise, the text in this article is either based on Wikipedia article "Louise Bourgeois" or another language Wikipedia page thereof used under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License; or on original research by Jahsonic and friends. See Art and Popular Culture's copyright notice.

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