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Artists Louise Bourgeois
Louise Bourgeois Photo

Louise Bourgeois

French-American Sculptor

Movements and Styles: Surrealism, Body Art, Installation Art, Proto-Feminist Artists

Born: December 25, 1911 - Paris, France

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

Louise Bourgeois Timeline

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."

Louise Bourgeois Signature

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

Louise Bourgeois Famous 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).
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Louise Bourgeois Artworks in Focus:

Biography

Childhood

Louise Bourgeois was born in Paris in 1911 and named after her father, Louis, who had wanted a son. Most of the year, 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.

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.

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Louise Bourgeois Biography Continues

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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View Influences Chart

Artists

Odilon RedonOdilon Redon
Pierre BonnardPierre Bonnard
Max ErnstMax Ernst
Gertrude SteinGertrude Stein
John CageJohn Cage

Friends

Robert GoldwaterRobert Goldwater
Marcel DuchampMarcel Duchamp
Peggy GuggenheimPeggy Guggenheim
Joan MiróJoan Miró

Movements

CubismCubism
ImpressionismImpressionism
ExpressionismExpressionism
SurrealismSurrealism
Louise Bourgeois
Louise Bourgeois
Years Worked: 1938 - 2010

Artists

Eva HesseEva Hesse
Louise NevelsonLouise Nevelson
Lynda BenglisLynda Benglis
The Guerrilla GirlsThe Guerrilla Girls
Sophie CalleSophie Calle

Friends

Lucy LippardLucy Lippard
Tracey EminTracey Emin

Movements

Feminist ArtFeminist Art
Installation ArtInstallation Art

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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 of 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

More Interesting Books about 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 Recomended resource

By Holland Cotter
The New York Times
May 31, 2010

More Interesting Articles about Louise Bourgeois
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