SynopsisLouise Bourgeois is one of the last surviving modernist artists who vividly recalls Surrealism and . She has exhibited and known artists from Duchamp to Pollock, and has survived to see the influence of her own work manifested in feminist-inspired art, as well as the development of installation art. Her artistic career, now spanning 80 years, has varied widely in her use of materials, which has constantly explored the sensuous properties of those chosen. Themes of the unconscious, fear, anger, and betrayal have also persevered throughout her work.
Key Ideas / Information
ChildhoodLouise Bourgeois lived outside of Paris where her parents ran a tapestry workshop. Throughout her childhood, Louise was recruited to draw and dye fabrics, developing an early appreciation for Art Deco patterns before she enrolled at the Ecole Nationale d'Art Decoratif in 1932. Problems in the household, such as her father's mistress residing with the Bourgeois family, would come to inform Bourgeois' artwork, which is highly diaristic. Many of her works focus on sexual desire and confusion, and she has said that many of them stem from early childhood narratives.
Early TrainingBourgeois had a wide-ranging education. After studying decorative arts, she studied math at the Sorbonne and philosophy at the University of Paris, where she wrote her dissertation on Emmanuel Kant. Her first Parisian apartment was in the same building as André Breton's gallery, Gradiva. Her exhibition career began in 1938, when she opened her own gallery, in her father's tapestry showroom, exhibiting prints and paintings by such luminaries as Eugene Delacroix and Odilon Redon. Through her short career as an art dealer, she met art historian Robert Goldwater, who she married, and together they relocated to New York.
Mature PeriodThroughout the 1940s and 50s, Goldwater introduced Bourgeois to a plethora of New York artists, such as Willem de Kooning, Franz Kline, and Louise Nevelson, as well as critics and art dealers like Clement Greenberg and Peggy Guggenheim. Bourgeois birthed three children, and beginning in 1941, she built totemic, wooden, abstract sculptures in homage to her friends that she placed on the roof her of Manhattan apartment building. This series, called Personages, along with her early paintings, were exhibited in context with other Abstract Expressionist artists, like Robert Motherwell and Mark Rothko. Bourgeois garnered attention as a sculptor whose Primitivism was compared to Pollock's. Her subject matter was her own psyche, an endless realm to tap for symbols related to femininity and motherhood. Though her artwork in this period was mostly abstract, she did make a series of figurative paintings, Les Femmes Maisons, which involved female torsos and legs attached to houses, implying her feelings about domesticity, living in a foreign country, and her pride in motherhood.
Late PeriodNot until the 1960s did Bourgeois begin experimenting with latex, plaster, and rubber. During this period, her Soft and Hard Landscapes were so sexually referential that critics and fans imbued her work with deep psychological import and linked Bourgeois' work to Surrealism. This was apt, as Bourgeois had lived in Paris above Breton, and curated an exhibition with Marcel Duchamp called Documents, France, 1940-1944: Art-Literature-Press of the French Underground. Also during the 1960s and 70s, Bourgeois became a politically active Socialist Feminist, and made several sexually explicit works related to the female body, such as her Fillettes. In the 1980s and 90s, Bourgeois built large-scale installations full of symbolic objects representing psychoanalytic ideas related to violence, sexuality, and Oedipal complexes. These themes run through Bourgeois' work to the present. Bourgeois lived a highly productive 98 years and died of a heart attack in her New York home in 2010.
LegacyBourgeois lived through Surrealism in France and Abstract Expressionism in New York. Her work helped inform the burgeoning feminist art movement, and continues to influence feminist-inspired work and installation art. Her work has always centered upon the reconstruction of memory, and in her 90-plus years, she has produced an astounding body of sculptures, drawings, books, prints, and installations. Recently, the Guggenheim launched a major American retrospective, which traveled to Los Angeles and then Washington D.C. She lived many years in New York City, where until very recently she held salons in her apartment amongst artists, in keeping with French Surrealist traditions.
Below are Louise Bourgeois' major influences, and the people and ideas that she influenced in turn.
Years Worked: 1911 - present
Quotes"Expose a contradiction, that is all you need."
WHERE TO SEE WORKS:
Museum of Modern Artwww.MoMA.org
Metropolitan Museum of Artwww.METmuseum.org
BiographyFantastic Reality: Louise Bourgeois and a Story of Modern Art
Written by ArtistDestruction of the Father / Reconstruction of the Father
Writings and Interviews, 1923-1997
ArtworksLouise Bourgeois (Rizzoli)
Robert Storr, Paulo Herkenhoff
Louise Bourgeois: Aller-Retour
Louise Bourgeois, Gerald Matt
Biography. Documentary Film
Louise Bourgeois's 'Cells'
Looking at Bourgeois through Irigaray's Gesturing Towards the Mother
Louise Bourgeois Retrospective
Washington DC News, Food, Arts & Events
A year of events celebrating her life and work
InterviewsLouise Bourgeois - Interview with Artist
Audio ClipsGuggenheim Bilbao's audio clip related to Maman
Video ClipsLouise Bourgeois: The Spider, the Mistress, and the Tangerine
Art:21 | Louise Bourgeois
Bourgeois is featured in the Season 1 episode "Identity" of the Art21 series "Art:21 -- Art in the Twenty-First Century"
|A tendency among New York painters of the late 1940s and '50s, all of whom were committed to an expressive art of profound emotion and universal themes. The movement embraced the gestural abstraction of Willem de Kooning and Jackson Pollock, and the color field painting of Mark Rothko and others. It blended elements of Surrealism and abstract art in an effort to create a new style fitted to the postwar mood of anxiety and trauma.
ArtStory: Abstract Expressionism Page
|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.
|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.
|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 Page
|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.
|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 Page
|Robert Goldwater was an art historian and the first director of the Museum of Primitive Art in New York.
|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 Page
|Peggy Guggenheim, the neice of Solomon R. Guggenheim, was a collector and patron of the arts. She gave important exhibitions to many modern, Surrealist, and Abstract Expressionist artists at her Art of This Century gallery in New York in the 1940s.
ArtStory: Peggy Guggenheim Page
|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 Page
|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 Page
|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 Page
|Expressionism is a broad term for a host of movements in early twentieth-century Germany, from Die Brücke (1905) and Der Blaue Reiter (1911) to the early Neue Sachlichkeit painters in the 1920s and '30s. Many German 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 Page
|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 Page
|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 Page
|Bruce Nauman is a contemporary American artist concerned with language, process, manipulation, and the registers of irony. His work includes performance, video, installation, neon sculpture, and other materials.
ArtStory: Bruce Nauman Page
|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.
|The Guerilla 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.
|Sophie Calle is a French conceptual artist whose photographs, writing, installations, and events explore voyeurism and the construction of identity.
|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 Page
|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.