- Louise Bourgeois Destruction of the Father / Reconstruction of the Father: Writings and Interviews, 1923-1997By Louise Bourgeois
Important Art by Louise Bourgeois
The Femme Maison series of paintings are a poignant exploration of female identity, worked on in conjunction with Bourgeois' transition into motherhood and American life. The title literally means "housewife" and all of the works contain the common elements of parts of a woman's nude body merged with architectural forms. The result is a Surrealist-worthy collage that was years ahead of the second wave of feminism, hinting at the struggles women would face in balancing work and home life.
This series dealt with the dramatic changes in Bourgeois private life in the early 1940s: marriage and domesticity, living in a foreign country, and mothering three children. Bourgeois also struggled to live up to her idealized memory of her own mother. These works suggest that she felt both trapped and exposed by the domestic responsibilities that consumed her life as she wrestled with finding her artistic voice.
In her own words, Bourgeois said the Femme Maison "does not know that she is half naked, and she does not know that she is trying to hide. That is to say, she is totally self-defeating because she shows herself at the very moment that she thinks she is hiding."
The Blind Leading the Blind is an early sculpture constructed from pointed wooden planks attached to a flat beam. The whole represents her complicated feelings about both her parents and her own experience of parenthood as both a delicate and sometimes confining act of balance. The artist likened this piece to a table, inspired by early memories of spending time underneath one herself, from which she could only spy her parents legs as they moved throughout a room. Moreover, she recalls this memory as an unpleasant one, as she felt alienated from her parents and sought refuge under furniture.
The work is part of Bourgeois' Personnages series, made between 1945 and 1955. The series includes approximately 80 standing sculptures touching on the autobiographical themes that occupied Bourgeois throughout her career such as homesickness, latent trauma over familial betrayal, and a desire to connect with loved ones. Each piece in the series resembled or recalled a person known to the artist. These abstract totemic figures were shown with no bases and were arranged in clusters that for Bourgeois referenced a reconstruction of her peopled past.
Another key piece from Bourgeois' Personnages series of abstracted elements used as personal totems, Femme Volage is a fractured assemblage made up of stacked wooden forms on a central rod that resembles a needle or spindle, tools that likely reference her mother's work as a weaver. This work also shows her early interest in the spiral form, which would become a common motif.
The work was created in Bourgeois' rooftop studio in New York City shortly after she had moved there from France. It was part of a series of sculptures that helped her process her feelings of being a foreigner in a strange city and her personal issues that surrounded juggling life as a mother, wife, and artist.
The totem-like structures were also significant contributions to the avant-garde of the late 1940s, of which primitive forms were created as Surrealist symbols of the unconscious, also seen in the work of Jackson Pollock and Mark Rothko among others.