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Artists Louise Bourgeois

Louise Bourgeois

French Sculptor

Movements: Body Art, Installation Art

Born: December 25, 1911 - Paris, France

Died: May 31, 2010 - New York, New York, USA

Quotes

"It is really the anger that makes me work."
Louise Bourgeois
"I am my work. I am not what I am as a person."
Louise Bourgeois
"I love all artists and I understand them (flock of deaf mutes in subway). They are my family and their existence keeps me from being lonely. To be an artist is a guarantee to your fellow humans that the wear and tear of living will not let you become a murderer."
Louise Bourgeois
"My work is obsessive. It doesn't concern the audience. I don't mean that I am not interested in the audience - but it is not my motivation."
Louise Bourgeois
"The only access we have to our volcanic unconscious and to the profound motives for our actions and reactions is through shocks of our encounters with specific people."
Louise Bourgeois
"Every day you have to abandon your past or accept it, and then if you cannot accept it you become a sculptor."
Louise Bourgeois

"Expose a contradiction, that is all you need."

Synopsis

Louise Bourgeois's work, which spanned most of the twentieth century, was heavily influenced by traumatic psychological events from her childhood, particularly her father's infidelity. Bourgeois's often brooding and sexually explicit subject matter and her focus on three-dimensional form were rare for women artists at the time. Beginning in the 1970s, she hosted Sunday salons in her Chelsea apartment, where students and young artists would take their work to be critiqued by Bourgeois, who could be ruthless and referred to the gatherings, with characteristically dry humor, as "Sunday, bloody Sunday". Nevertheless, this accessibility and willingness to advise younger artists was exceptional for an established artist of such standing. Her influence on other artists since the 1970s looms large, but is manifested most strongly in feminist-inspired body art and in the development of installation art.

Key Ideas

Bourgeois's artwork is renowned for its highly personal thematic content involving the unconscious, sexual desire, and the body. These themes draw on events in her childhood for which she considered making art a therapeutic or cathartic process.
Bourgeois transformed her experiences into a highly personal visual language through the use of mythological and archetypal imagery, adopting objects such as spirals, spiders, cages, medical tools, and sewn appendages to symbolize the feminine psyche, beauty, and psychological pain.
Through the use of abstract form and a wide variety of media, Bourgeois dealt with notions of universal balance, playfully juxtaposing materials conventionally considered male or female. She would, for example, use rough or hard materials most strongly associated with masculinity to sculpt soft biomorphic forms suggestive of femininity.

Most Important Art

Fillette (1968)
This is one of Bourgeois's most famous works. The piece showcases her use of biomorphic imagery as well as her experiments with and distortions of both male and female anatomy, often to the point that they become indistinguishable. Here, the testicles can also be read as breasts and the erect penis can be seen as a neck. The bizarre juxtaposition of the title, which means little girl in English, and the priapism of the work suggests a girl metamorphosed into that which threatens her. In one version, the piece hangs from a hook and thus references castration; in the second version, the piece is being carried. Bourgeois was photographed doing the latter in a famous photograph of her by Robert Mapplethorpe (1982).
Latex over plaster - The Museum of Modern Art, New York
More Art Works


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Biography

Childhood

Louise Bourgeois was born in Paris in 1911 and named after her father, Louis, who had wanted a son. During the week, her family lived in the fashionable St. Germain in an apartment above the gallery where her parents sold their tapestries. The family also had a villa and workshop in the countryside where they spent their weekends restoring antique tapestries. Throughout her childhood, Bourgeois was recruited to help in the workshop by washing, mending, sewing, and drawing. The workshop was overseen by Bourgeois's mother, Josephine, with whom she was very close. As an adolescent, Bourgeois attended the elite Lycee Fenelon in Paris. Tensions in the household, particularly the fact that her father's mistress (who was also Bourgeois's tutor) resided with the Bourgeois family, would later come to inform Bourgeois's highly autobiographical artwork.

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Early Training

Louise Bourgeois Biography

Bourgeois had a wide-ranging education. In the early 1930s, she studied math and philosophy at the Sorbonne, where she wrote her thesis on Blaise Pascal and Emmanuel Kant. After the death of her mother in 1932, she began studying art, enrolling in several schools and ateliers between 1934 and 1938, including the Ecole des Beaux-Arts, the Academie Ranson, the Academie Julian, and the Academie de la Grande-Chaumiere. Her first Paris apartment was on the rue de Seine in the same building as André Breton's Galerie Gradiva, where she became familiar with the work of the Surrealists. In 1938, she began exhibiting her work at the Salon d'Automne and opened her own gallery in a sectioned-off area of her father's tapestry showroom, exhibiting prints and paintings. Through her short career as an art dealer, she met art historian Robert Goldwater, with whom she married and relocated to New York City in 1938.

Mature Period

Louise Bourgeois Photo

Upon arrival in New York, Bourgeois enrolled at the Art Students League and focused her attention on printmaking and painting, while also having three children in four years. Throughout the 1940s and '50s, Goldwater introduced Bourgeois to a plethora of New York artists, critics, and dealers, including importantly Alfred Barr, the director of the Museum of Modern Art, who bought one of her works for the MoMA collection in 1953. In the late '40s and '50s, she had several solo shows in various New York galleries. Her husband received a Fulbright grant and they returned with their children to France for several years in the early 1950s, during which time her father died. Bourgeois began psychoanalysis in 1952, which she continued on and off until 1985. In the 1960s, Bourgeois began experimenting with latex, plaster, and rubber, and also traveled to Italy, where she worked with marble and bronze.

Late Period

Louise Bourgeois Portrait

Bourgeois's husband died in 1973, the same year she began teaching at various institutions in New York City, including the Pratt Institute, Brooklyn College, and Cooper Union. She also participated in several exhibits in the 1970s and '80s and began presenting performance pieces. In the 1970s, Bourgeois also became politically active as a socialist and a feminist. She joined the Fight Censorship Group, which defended the use of sexually explicit imagery in art, and made several of her own sexually explicit works related to the female body, such as Fillette (1968). Marking her prestige in the art world, Bourgeois had her first retrospective in 1982 at MoMA, which was the first given to a female artist at that institution. In 1993, Bourgeois, who became an American citizen in 1955, was chosen to represent the USA in the Venice Biennale. She died in 2010.

Legacy

Bourgeois's work helped inform the burgeoning feminist art movement and continues to influence feminist-inspired work and installation art. The first assemblages of Louise Nevelson, for example, were produced a few years after Bourgeois had been experimenting with similar environments, such as Blind Leading the Blind (1947-49) and Night Garden (1953). Bourgeois's focus on both male and female gentalia during the 1960s was an important precursor to feminist artists such as Lynda Benglis and Judy Chicago, whose works address similar interests. Bourgeois's work always centered upon the reconstruction of memory, and in her 98 years, she produced an astounding body of sculptures, drawings, books, prints, and installations.

Influences and Connections

Influences on artist

Artists, Friends, Movements

Influenced by artist

Artists, Friends, Movements

Louise Bourgeois
Interactive chart with Louise Bourgeois's main influences, and the people and ideas that the artist influenced in turn.
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Artists

Odilon Redon
Pierre Bonnard
Max Ernst
Gertrude Stein
John Cage

Friends

Robert Goldwater
Marcel Duchamp
Peggy Guggenheim
Joan Miró

Movements

Cubism
Impressionism
Expressionism
Surrealism
Louise Bourgeois
Louise Bourgeois
Years Worked: 1938 - 2010

Artists

Eva Hesse
Louise Nevelson
Lynda Benglis
The Guerrilla Girls
Sophie Calle

Friends

Lucy Lippard
Tracey Emin

Movements

Feminist Art
Installation Art

Original content written by The Art Story Contributors

Edited and published by The Art Story Contributors

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Useful Resources on Louise Bourgeois

Books
Articles
Videos
The books and articles below constitute a bibliography of the sources used in the writing this page. These also suggest some accessible resources for further research, especially ones that can be found and purchased via the internet.
biography
Fantastic Reality: Louise Bourgeois and a Story of Modern Art

By Mignon Nixon

written by artist
Louise Bourgeois Destruction of the Father / Reconstruction of the Father: Writings and Interviews, 1923-1997

By Louise Bourgeois

Louise Bourgeois's 'Cells': Looking at Bourgeois through Irigaray's Gesturing Towards the Mother

By Katy Deepwell
n.paradoxa
May 1997

Louise Bourgeois Retrospective

By Kelly Rand
Arts & Entertainment
February 26, 2009

Sculptor Louise Bourgeois: A year of events celebrating her life and work

By Paul Stuart
World Socialist Web Site
January 4, 2009

Louise Bourgeois, Influential Sculptor, Dies at 98

By Holland Cotter
The New York Times
May 31, 2010

Body Art
Body Art
Body Art
Body art is art form that uses the human body as its canvas. Tattoos and body piercings are the most common form of body art. Other types include branding, scarification, body shaping, full body tattoo and body painting. Body art can take a more extreme form in bodily mutilation and acts of physical endurance.
Body Art
Installation Art
Installation Art
Installation Art
Installation art is a genre of contemporary art-making in which two- and three-dimensional materials are used to transform a particular site. Installations may include sculptural, found, sound-based, and performance elements, and can be permanent or ephemeral.
Installation Art
André Breton
André Breton
André Breton
André Breton, author of the 1924 Surrealist Manifesto, was an influential theorizer of both Dada and Surrealism. Born in France, he emigrated to New York during World War II, where he greatly influenced the Abstract Expressionists.
ArtStory: André Breton
Robert Goldwater
Robert Goldwater
Robert Goldwater
Robert Goldwater was an art historian and the first director of the Museum of Primitive Art in New York.
Robert Goldwater
Art Students League of New York
Art Students League of New York
Art Students League of New York
The League is an artist-founded institution that arose in the post-Civil War years, when many art students became dissatisfied with the lack of quality instruction in the basics of portraiture, sculpture and composition offered by New York art schools. During the Depression years, many young artists who would eventually define the Abstract Expressionist movement spent their formative years studying and teaching at the League.
ArtStory: Art Students League of New York
Alfred H. Barr, Jr.
Alfred H. Barr, Jr.
Alfred H. Barr, Jr.
Alfred H. Barr, Jr. was an American art historian, collector, and the first director of The Museum of Modern Art. Barr was very influential in MoMA's early years, arranging seminal exhibitions of works by Van Gogh, Léger, the Post-Impressionists and the Cubists.
ArtStory: Alfred H. Barr, Jr.
Museum of Modern Art
Museum of Modern Art
Museum of Modern Art
The Museum has become the home for some of the greatest works of avant-garde painting, sculpture, film and multi-media art in the world. While MoMA remains true to its roots as a place where new styles of art can circulate, its permanent collection is widely considered the most impressive and diverse assortment of Modern art to ever exist, ranging from late-nineteenth-century van Goghs, Monets and Gauguins to works produced in the present day.
ArtStory: Museum of Modern Art
Louise Nevelson
Louise Nevelson
Louise Nevelson
Louise Nevelson was a Russian-born American artist who worked in the WPA and was a member of the Abstract Expressionist scene. She is best known for her black-painted constructions of assembled crates, boxes, headboards, and other wooden materials.
ArtStory: Louise Nevelson
Feminist Art
Feminist Art
Feminist Art
Feminist art emerged in the 1960s and '70s to explore questions of sex, power, the body, and the ways in which gender categories structure how we see and understand the world. Developing at the same time as many new media strategies, feminist art frequently involves text, installation, and performance elements.
ArtStory: Feminist Art
Lynda Benglis
Lynda Benglis
Lynda Benglis
Lynda Benglis is an American artist associated with process-based and anti-form art. Best known for her floor-based "spills" and latex sculptures, she adds a critical feminist perspective to post-minimalist work.
Lynda Benglis
Judy Chicago
Judy Chicago
Judy Chicago
Judy Chicago is an American feminist artist and author. Originally associated with the Minimalist movement of the 1960s, Chicago soon abandoned this in favor of creating content-based art. Her most famous work to date is the installation piece The Dinner Party (1974-79), an homage to women's history.
ArtStory: Judy Chicago
Odilon Redon
Odilon Redon
Odilon Redon
Odilon Redon was a French Symbolist artist whose paintings, prints, and pastel works frequently include elements like cyclopses, centaurs, and abstract floral designs in atmospheric settings.
Odilon Redon
Pierre Bonnard
Pierre Bonnard
Pierre Bonnard
The French artist Pierre Bonnard, although dismissed as old-fashioned by some of the avant-garde in his lifetime, was esteemed by contemporary colorists like Matisse. A member of the Nabis group in his youth, his innovative paintings play with light, decorative surfaces, and Impressionist techniques.
ArtStory: Pierre Bonnard
Max Ernst
Max Ernst
Max Ernst
Max Ernst was a German Dadaist and Surrealist whose paintings and collages combine dream-like realism, automatic techniques, and eerie subject matter.
ArtStory: Max Ernst
Gertrude Stein
Gertrude Stein
Gertrude Stein
Gertrude Stein was an American writer and supporter of the arts whose Paris salons were key sites for avant-garde art in the early twentieth century. She built one of the earliest collections of modern art, including works by Matisse, Picasso, Braque, and others.
Gertrude Stein
John Cage
John Cage
John Cage
John Cage was an American composer and conceptual artist who incorporated chance, silence, and environmental effects into his performances. An important art theorist, he influenced choreographers, musicians, and the Fluxus artists of the 1970s.
ArtStory: John Cage
Marcel Duchamp
Marcel Duchamp
Marcel Duchamp
The French artist Marcel Duchamp was an instrumental figure in the avant-garde art worlds of Paris and New York. Moving through Dada, Surrealism, readymades, sculpture, and installation, his work involves conceptual play and an implicit attack on bourgeois art sensibilities.
ArtStory: Marcel Duchamp
Peggy Guggenheim
Peggy Guggenheim
Peggy Guggenheim
Peggy Guggenheim, the neice of Solomon R. Guggenheim, was a collector, patron, and eclectic personality deeply connected to modern art. She gave important exhibitions to many Surrealist and Abstract Expressionist artists at her Art of This Century gallery in New York in the 1940s.
ArtStory: Peggy Guggenheim
Joan Miró
Joan Miró
Joan Miró
Active in Paris from the 1920s onward, and influenced by Surrealism, Miró developed a style of biomorphic abstraction which blended abstract figurative motifs, large fields of color, and primitivist symbols. This style would be an important inspiration for many Abstract Expressionists.
ArtStory: Joan Miró
Cubism
Cubism
Cubism
Cubism was developed by Pablo Picasso and Georges Braque between 1907-1911, and it continued to be highly influential long after its decline. This classic phase has two stages: 'Analytic', in which forms seem to be 'analyzed' and fragmented; and 'Synthetic', in which pre-existing materials such as newspaper and wood veneer are collaged to the surface of the canvas.
ArtStory: Cubism
Impressionism
Impressionism
Impressionism
A movement in painting that first surfaced in France in the 1860s, it sought new ways to describe effects of light and movement, often using rich colors. The Impressionists were drawn to modern life and often painted the city, but they also captured landscapes and scenes of middle-class leisure-taking in the suburbs.
ArtStory: Impressionism
Expressionism
Expressionism
Expressionism
Expressionism is a broad term for a host of movements in early twentieth-century Germany and beyond, from Die Brücke (1905) and Der Blaue Reiter (1911) to the early Neue Sachlichkeit painters in the 1920s and '30s. Many Expressionists used vivid colors and abstracted forms to create spiritually or psychologically intense works, while others focused on depictions of war, alienation, and the modern city.
ArtStory: Expressionism
Surrealism
Surrealism
Surrealism
Perhaps the most influential avant-garde movement of the century, Surrealism was founded in Paris in 1924 by a small group of writers and artists who sought to channel the unconscious as a means to unlock the power of the imagination. Much influenced by Freud, they believed that the conscious mind repressed the power of the imagination. Influenced also by Marx, they hoped that the psyche had the power to reveal the contradictions in the everyday world and spur on revolution.
ArtStory: Surrealism
Eva Hesse
Eva Hesse
Eva Hesse
Eva Hesse was a major New York artist whose sculpture, assemblage, and installation brought issues of feminism and the body into Minimalism's formal vocabulary. She is heralded as one of the quintessential Post-Minimalist artists.
ArtStory: Eva Hesse
The Guerrilla Girls
The Guerrilla Girls
The Guerrilla Girls
The Guerrilla Girls are a radical feminist activist group that agitates for women's equality in museums and the art world. Originating in the 1980s, they are famous for their poster designs and the gorilla masks their members wear as disguises.
The Guerrilla Girls
Sophie Calle
Sophie Calle
Sophie Calle
Sophie Calle is a French conceptual artist whose photographs, writing, installations, and events explore voyeurism and the construction of identity.
Sophie Calle
Lucy Lippard
Lucy Lippard
Lucy Lippard
Lucy Lippard is an American art scholar and curator who has focused on postmodern movements such as conceptual art, feminist theory, and land art.
Lucy Lippard
Tracey Emin
Tracey Emin
Tracey Emin
Tracey Emin is a British artist and a member of the famed YBA's (Young British Artists). She is best known for her provocative and sexually-charged works, often in the form of large-scale installation. Most recently she opened the Turner Contemporary Art Gallery, along with Jools Holland, and she remains an active art instructor in her native England.
Tracey Emin