Louise Bourgeois

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Louise Bourgeois
Louise Bourgeois.jpg
Born Louise Joséphine Bourgeois
(1911-12-25)25 December 1911
Paris, France
Died 31 May 2010(2010-05-31) (aged 98)
New York City, United States
Nationality French-American
Education Sorbonne, Académie de la Grande Chaumière, École du Louvre, École des Beaux-Arts
Known for Sculpture, installation art, painting
Notable work(s) Cells, Maman, The Destruction of the Father
Movement Confessional art
Awards Praemium Imperiale

Louise Joséphine Bourgeois (French: [lwiz buʁʒwa]; 25 December 1911 – 31 May 2010),[1] was a renowned French-American artist and sculptor, one of the most important artists in modern and contemporary art, and known for her spider structures which resulted in her being nicknamed the Spiderwoman.[2] Her largest spider sculpture titled Maman has loomed over numerous locations around the world, standing at over 30 ft (9.27m).[3]

She is recognized today as the founder of confessional art.[4]

In the late 1940s, after moving to New York City with her American husband, Robert Goldwater, she turned to sculpture. Though her works are abstract, they are suggestive of the human figure and express themes of betrayal, anxiety, and loneliness. Her work was wholly autobiographical, inspired by her childhood trauma of discovering that her English governess was also her father’s mistress.[4]

Life[edit]

Sculpture by Bourgeois in the Domestic Incidents group exhibit at London's Tate Modern Turbine Hall, 2006

Early life[edit]

Bourgeois was born on 25 December 1911 in Paris, France.[5] She was the third child of four born to parents Josephine Fauriaux and Louis Bourgeois.[6] Her parents owned a gallery that dealt primarily in antique tapestries. A few years after her birth, her family moved out of Paris and set up a workshop for tapestry restoration below their apartment in Choisy-le-Roi, for which Bourgeois filled in the designs where they had become worn.[5][7]

By 1924 her father, a tyrannical philanderer, was indulging in an extended affair with her English teacher and nanny.[8] According to Bourgeois, her mother, Josephine, “an intelligent, patient and enduring, if not calculating, person,” was aware of her husband's infidelity, but found it easier to turn a blind eye. Bourgeois, an alert little girl, hoarded her memories in her diaries.[9]

As a child, Bourgeois did not meet her father's expectations due to her lack of ability. Eventually, he came to adore her for her talent and spirit, but she continued to hate him for his explosive temper, domination of the household, and for teasing her in front of others.[8]

In 1930, Bourgeois entered the Sorbonne to study mathematics and geometry, subjects that she valued for their stability,[8][10] saying "I got peace of mind, only through the study of rules nobody could change."[10]

Her mother died in 1932, while Bourgeois was studying mathematics. Her mother's death inspired her to abandon mathematics and to begin studying art. Her father thought modern artists were wastrels and refused to support her. She continued to study art by joining classes where translators were needed for English-speaking students, in which those translators were not charged tuition. In one such class Fernand Léger saw her work and told her she was a sculptor, not a painter.[8]

Bourgeois graduated from the Sorbonne in 1935, and continued to study art at the Académie de la Grande Chaumière, where she studied from 1937 to 1938 and at various other art schools, such as the École du Louvre and the École des Beaux-Arts. During the time in which she was enrolled at the École des Beaux-Arts, she turned to her father's infidelities for inspiration. She discovered her creative impulse in her childhood traumas and tensions.[9]

Bourgeois had a desire for first-hand experience, and frequently visited studios in Paris, learning techniques from the artists and assisting with exhibitions.[11]

Bourgeois briefly opened a print store beside her father's tapestry workshop. Her father helped her on the grounds that she had entered into a commerce-driven profession.[8]

Bourgeois met her husband Robert Goldwater, an American art historian noted for his pioneering work in the field then referred to as primitive art, in 1938 at Bourgeois' print store. Goldwater had visited the store to purchase a selection of prints by Pablo Picasso, and "in between talks about surrealism and the latest trends, [they] got married." They migrated to New York City the same year, where Goldwater resumed his career as professor of the arts at New York University Institute of Fine Arts,[8] while Bourgeois attended the Art Students League of New York, studying painting under Vaclav Vytlacil, and also producing sculptures and prints.[10]

Bourgeois had been unable to conceive by 1939, so she and Goldwater briefly returned to France to adopt a French child, Michel. However, in 1940, she gave birth to another son, Jean-Louis, and in 1941, she gave birth to Alain.[8]

Middle years[edit]

For Bourgeois the early 1940s represented the difficulties of a transition to a new country and the struggle to enter the exhibition world of New York City. Her work during this time was constructed from junkyard scraps and driftwood which she used to carve upright wood sculptures. The impurities of the wood were then camouflaged with paint, after which nails were employed to invent holes and scratches in the endeavor to portray some emotion. The Sleeping Figure is one such example which depicts a war figure that is unable to face the real world due to vulnerability. Throughout her life, Bourgeois' work was created from revisiting of her own troubled past as she found inspiration and temporary catharsis from her childhood years and the abuse she suffered from her father. Slowly she developed more artistic confidence, although her middle years are more opaque, which might be due to the fact that she received very little attention from the art world despite having her first solo show in 1945.[12]

In 1954, Bourgeois joined the American Abstract Artists Group, with several contemporaries, among them Barnett Newman and Ad Reinhardt. At this time she also befriended the artists Willem de Kooning, Mark Rothko, and Jackson Pollock.[11] As part of the American Abstract Artists Group, Bourgeois made the transition from wood and upright structures to marble, plaster and bronze as she investigated concerns like fear, vulnerability and loss of control. This transition was a turning point. She referred to her art as a series or sequence closely related to days and circumstances, describing her early work as the fear of falling which later transformed into the art of falling and the final evolution as the art of hanging in there. Her conflicts in real life empowered her to authenticate her experiences and struggles through a unique art form. In 1958, Bourgeois and her husband moved into a terraced house at West 22nd Street, in Chelsea, Manhattan, where she lived and worked for the rest of her life.[8]

Later life[edit]

In 1973, Bourgeois began 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.

During the 1970s, Bourgeois was a member of the Fight Censorship Group, a feminist anti-censorship collective founded by fellow artist Anita Steckel that defended the use of sexual imagery in artwork.[13]

Bourgeois received her first retrospective in 1982, by the Museum of Modern Art in New York City. Until then, she had been a peripheral figure in art whose work was more admired than acclaimed. In an interview with Artforum, timed to coincide with the opening of her retrospective, she revealed that the imagery in her sculptures was wholly autobiographical. She shared with the world that she obsessively relived through her art the trauma of discovering, as a child, that her English governess was also her father’s mistress.[4][14]

Bourgeois had another retrospective in 1989 at Documenta 9 in Kassel, Germany.[12] In 1993, when the Royal Academy of Arts staged its comprehensive survey of American art in the 20th century, the organizers did not consider Bourgeois' work of significant importance to include in the survey.[4] However, this survey was criticized for many omissions, with one critic writing that "whole sections of the best American art have been wiped out" and pointing out that very few women were included.[15] In 2000 her works were selected to be shown at the opening of the Tate Modern in London.[12] In 2001, she showed at the Hermitage Museum.[16]

In 2010, in the last year of her life, Bourgeois used her art to speak up for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender (LGBT) equality. She created the piece I Do, depicting two flowers growing from one stem, to benefit the nonprofit organization Freedom to Marry. Bourgeois has said "Everyone should have the right to marry. To make a commitment to love someone forever is a beautiful thing."[17] Bourgeois had a history of activism on behalf of LGBT equality, having created artwork for the AIDS activist organization ACT UP in 1993.[18]

In 2011 one of her works titled Spider, sold for $10.7 million, a new record price for the artist at auction,[19] and the highest price paid for a work by a woman.[20]

Death[edit]

Bourgeois died of heart failure on 31 May 2010, at the Beth Israel Medical Center in New York City. [21] [22] Wendy Williams, the managing director of the Louise Bourgeois Studio, announced her death.[22] She had continued to create artwork until her death, her last pieces being finished the week before.[23]

The New York Times said that her work "shared a set of repeated themes, centered on the human body and its need for nurture and protection in a frightening world."[24]

Her husband, Robert Goldwater, died in 1973. She was survived by two sons, Alain Bourgeois and Jean-Louis Bourgeois. Her third son, Michel, died in 1990.[25]

Work[edit]

Destruction of the Father[edit]

Destruction of the Father (1974) is a biographical and a psychological exploration of the power dominance of father and his offspring. The piece is a flesh-toned installation in a soft and womb-like room. Made of plaster, latex, wood, fabric, and red light, Destruction of the Father was the first piece in which she used soft materials on a large scale. Upon entering the installation, the viewer stands in the aftermath of a crime. Set in a stylized dining room (with the dual impact of a bedroom), the abstract blob-like children of an overbearing father have rebelled, murdered, and eaten him.[26]

…telling the captive audience how great he is, all the wonderful things he did, all the bad people he put down today. But this goes on day after day. There is tragedy in the air. Once too often he has said his piece. He is unbearably dominating although probably he does not realize it himself. A kind of resentment grows and one day my brother and I decided, 'the time has come!' We grabbed him, laid him on the table and with our knives dissected him. We took him apart and dismembered him, we cut off his penis. And he became food. We ate him up… he was liquidated the same way he liquidated the children.[27]

Cells[edit]

While in her eighties, Bourgeois produced two series of enclosed installation works she referred to as Cells. Many are small enclosures into which the viewer is prompted to peer inward at arrangements of symbolic objects; others are small rooms into which the viewer is invited to enter. In the cell pieces, Bourgeois uses earlier sculptural forms, found objects as well as personal items that carried strong personal emotional charge for the artist.

The cells enclose psychological and intellectual states, primarily feelings of fear and pain. Bourgeois stated that the Cells represent “different types of pain; physical, emotional and psychological, mental and intellectual… Each Cell deals with a fear. Fear is pain… Each Cell deals with the pleasure of the voyeur, the thrill of looking and being looked at.” [28]

Maman[edit]

Main article: Maman (sculpture)
Bourgeois' Maman sculpture at the Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao

In the late 1990s, Bourgeois began using the spider as a central image in her art. Maman, which stands more than nine metres high, is a steel and marble sculpture from which an edition of six bronzes were subsequently cast. It first made an appearance as part of Bourgeois’ commission for The Unilever Series for Tate Modern’s Turbine Hall in 2000, and recently, the sculpture was installed at the Qatar National Convention Centre in Doha, Qatar.[29] It is the largest Spider sculpture ever made by Bourgeois.[27]

The sculpture alludes to the strength of her mother, with metaphors of spinning, weaving, nurture and protection.[27]

The Spider is an ode to my mother. She was my best friend. Like a spider, my mother was a weaver. My family was in the business of tapestry restoration, and my mother was in charge of the workshop. Like spiders, my mother was very clever. Spiders are friendly presences that eat mosquitoes. We know that mosquitoes spread diseases and are therefore unwanted. So, spiders are helpful and protective, just like my mother.

— Louise Bourgeois[27]

Pervasive themes[edit]

One theme of Bourgeois's work is that of childhood trauma and hidden emotion. After Louise's mother became sick with influenza Louise's father began having affairs with other women, most notably with Sadie, Louise's English tutor. Louise was extremely watchful and aware of the situation. This was the beginning of the artists' engagement with double standards related to gender and sexuality, which was expressed in much of her work. She recalls her father saying "I love you" repeatedly to her mother, despite infidelity. "He was the wolf, and she was the rational hare, forgiving and accepting him as he was." Page text.[30] Her 1993 work "Cell: You Better Grow Up", part of her "Cell" series, speaks directly to Louise's childhood trauma and the insecurity that surrounded her. 2002's "Give or Take" is defined by hidden emotion, representing the intense dilemma that people face throughout their lives as they attempt to balance the actions of giving and taking. This dilemma is not only represented by the shape of the sculpture, but also the heaviness of the material this piece is made of.

Architecture and memory are important components of Bourgeois' work. In numerous interviews, Louise describes architecture as a visual expression of memory, or memory as a type of architecture. The memory which is featured in much of her work is an invented memory - about the death or exorcism of her father. The imagined memory is interwoven with her real memories including; living across from a slaughterhouse, visiting her father at the front and her father's affair. To Louise her father represented injury and war, aggrandizement of himself and belittlement of others and most importantly a man who represented betrayal. Page text.[30] Her 1993 work "Cell (Three White Marble Spheres)" speaks to fear and captivity. The mirrors within the present an altered and distorted reality.

Sexuality is undoubtedly one of the most important themes in the work of Louise Bourgeois. The link between sexuality and fragility or insecurity is also powerful. It has been argued that this stems from her childhood memories and her father's affairs. 1952's "Spiral Woman" combines Louise's focus on female sexuality and torture. The flexing leg and arm muscles indicate that the Spiral Woman is still above though she is being suffocated and hung. 1995's "In and Out" uses cold metal materials to link sexuality with anger and perhaps even captivity.

Selected works[edit]

Bibliography[edit]

  • 1994 – Louise Bourgeois: The Locus of Memory Works 1982-1993. Harry N. Abrams. p. 144. ISBN 0-8109-3127-3. 
  • 1996 – Louise Bourgeois: Drawings and Observations. Bulfinch. p. 192. ISBN 0-8212-2299-6. 
  • 1998 – Louise Bourgeois Destruction of the Father / Reconstruction of the Father. MIT Press in association with Violette Editions. p. 384. ISBN 0-262-52246-2. 
  • 2000 – Louise Bourgeois: Memory and Architecture. Actar. p. 316. ISBN 84-8003-188-3. 
  • 2001 – Louise Bourgeois: The Insomnia Drawings. Scalo Publishers. p. 580. ISBN 3-908247-39-X. 
  • 2001 – Louise Bourgeois' Spider: The Architecture of Art-Writing. University of Chicago Press. p. 88. ISBN 0-226-03575-1. 
  • 2008 – Louise Bourgeois: The Secret of the Cells. Prestel USA. p. 168. ISBN 3-7913-4007-7. 
  • 2011 – To Whom it May Concern. Violette Editions. p. 76. ISBN 978-1-900828-36-9. 
  • 2012 – The Return of the Repressed. Violette Editions. p. 500. ISBN 978-1-900828-37-6. 

Documentary[edit]

Exhibitions[edit]

Honors and awards[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ "Louise Bourgeois, 1911-2010". theartnewspaper. 4 June 2010. 
  2. ^ "US sculptor Louise Bourgeois dies aged 98". BBC News. 1 June 2010. Retrieved 1 June 2010. 
  3. ^ "Maman". Collections. The National Gallery of Canada. Retrieved 21 January 2014. 
  4. ^ a b c d Dorment, Richard (1 June 2010). "Louise Bourgeois invented confessional art". London: The Daily Telegraph. Retrieved 1 June 2010. 
  5. ^ a b "Art Encyclopedia: Louise Bourgeois". Answers.com. Retrieved 2 June 2010. 
  6. ^ "The Spider's Web". The New Yorker. Retrieved 4 February 2002. 
  7. ^ Cotter, Holland (31 May 2010). "Louise Bourgeois, Influential Sculptor, Dies at 98". The New York Times. p. 2. Retrieved 1 June 2010. 
  8. ^ a b c d e f g h McNay, Michael (31 May 2010). "Louise Bourgeois obituary". The Guardian (London). Retrieved 12 June 2010. 
  9. ^ a b Campbell-Johnston, Rachel (9 October 2007). "Louise Bourgeois: this art has legs". London: The Times. Retrieved 1 June 2010. 
  10. ^ a b c Cotter, Holland (31 May 2010). "Louise Bourgeois, Influential Sculptor, Dies at 98". The New York Times. p. 2. Retrieved 1 June 2010. 
  11. ^ a b "Biography – Louise Bourgeois". Cybermuse. Retrieved 12 June 2010. 
  12. ^ a b c http://fiches.lexpress.fr/personnalite/louise-bourgeois_268971/biographie
  13. ^ Meyer, Richard. "Not Me:’ Joan Semmel’s Body of Painting". Joan Semmel. Retrieved 15 October 2012. 
  14. ^ Dorment, Richard (9 October 2007). "Louise Bourgeois: The shape of a child's torment". London: The Daily Telegraph. Retrieved 1 June 2010. 
  15. ^ http://www.independent.co.uk/arts-entertainment/art--the-bad-and-the-beautiful-the-royal-academy-is-about-to-open-a-big-show-of-american-art-in-the-20th-century-three-of-the-paintings-here-were-rated-good-enough-to-be-included-three-were-not-if-you-can-guess-which-is-which-youre-cleverer-than-us-answers-overleaf-the-choices-are-symptoms-of-a-wider-malaise-1464146.html
  16. ^ "The State Hermitage Museum: Hermitage News". Hermitagemuseum.org. Retrieved 29 October 2011. 
  17. ^ "Louise Bourgeois Edition". Freedom To Marry. 2010. Retrieved 9 June 2010. 
  18. ^ Wagner, James (31 May 2010). "Louise Bourgeois (1911-2010)". Retrieved 9 June 2010. 
  19. ^ Louise Bourgeois, Spider (1996) Christie's Post-War Contemporary Evening Sale, 8 November 2011, New York.
  20. ^ "The price of being female: Post-war artists at auction". Prospero blog (The Economist). 25 May 2012. Retrieved 25 May 2012. 
  21. ^ Kessler, Felix (31 May 2010). "Louise Bourgeois, Sculptor of Freaky Giant Spiders, Dies at 98". Bloomberg. Retrieved 29 October 2011. 
  22. ^ a b Cotter, Holland (31 May 2010). "Louise Bourgeois, Artist and Sculptor, Is Dead". The New York Times. Retrieved 1 June 2010. 
  23. ^ Peltz, Jennifer (31 May 2010). "Artist Louise Bourgeois dies in NYC at 98". Yahoo! News. Retrieved 1 June 2010. [dead link]
  24. ^ Cotter, Holland (31 May 2010). "Louise Bourgeois, Artist and Sculptor, Is Dead". The New York Times. Retrieved 1 June 2010. 
  25. ^ Peltz, Jennifer (31 May 2010). "Artist Louise Bourgeois, sculptor who plumbed female feelings, dies in NYC". Newser. Retrieved 1 June 2010. 
  26. ^ Conn, Cyndi. Delicate Strength. Retrieved 1 May 2011. 
  27. ^ a b c d "Tate acquires Louise Bourgeois's giant spider, Maman". Tate. Retrieved 11 January 2008. 
  28. ^ "Centre Pompidou Louise Bourgeois Exhibition Itinerary". Retrieved 30 April 2011. 
  29. ^ Celebrated sculpture finds home at QNCC in the Gulf Times, 24 October 2011
  30. ^ a b [1], additional text.
  31. ^ "Louise Bourgeois Full Career Retrospective". Artabase.net. Retrieved 29 October 2011. 
  32. ^ "Louise Bourgeois: Conscious and Unconscious". Retrieved 24 January 2012. 
  33. ^ http://www.nationalacademy.org/academy/national-academicians/
  34. ^ "Reply to a parliamentary question" (pdf) (in German). p. 1709. Retrieved 3 January 2013. 

Further reading[edit]

  • Armstrong, Carol (2006). Women Artists at the Millennium. October Books. p. 408. ISBN 0-262-01226-X. 
  • Herskovic, Marika (2003). American Abstract Expressionism of the 1950s: An Illustrated Survey. New York School Press. p. 372. ISBN 0-9677994-1-4. 
  • Herskovic, Marika (2000). New York School: Abstract Expressionists. New York School Press. p. 393. ISBN 0-9677994-0-6. 
  • Deepwell, Katy (May 1997). "Feminist Readings of Louise Bourgeois or Why Louise Bourgeois is a Feminist Icon". In Deepwell, Katy. n.paradoxa: international feminist art journal (London: KT Press) (3): pp. 28–38. ISSN 1461-0426. 

External links[edit]