Post War Years
In 1949 Bourgeois held her first exhibition at the Peridot Gallery in
New York, which mainly consisted of totem sculptures and wooden figures.
Despite the success of the show (the Museum of Modern Art purchased one
piece); Bourgeois was largely ignored by the art world during the 1950s
and 1960s. It was only after the death of her husband in the 1970s, that
she achieved fame. Examples of her semi-abstract
sculpture from this period include Paddle Woman (1947, bronze);
The Three Graces (1947, bronze); Persistent Antagonism (1947,
Museum of Modern Art, San Francisco); The Blind Leading the Blind
(1947, Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, Washington DC) and Quarantania
(1947-53, bronze). Her works utilized a huge array of materials, from
traditional plaster, marble, bronze, and wood to plastic, latex, resin,
wax, toy doll fragments, electric lights, glass, rubber and junk
art. Some of her sculptures were created to hang from the ceiling
(Arch of Hysteria and Spiral Woman), others to cling to
the wall (Torso Self-Portrait).
Note About Sculpture Appreciation
To learn how to evaluate modernist French sculptors like Louise Bourgeois,
see: How to Appreciate
Modern Sculpture. For earlier works, please see: How
to Appreciate Sculpture.
During the 1940s Bourgeois created her Surrealist-inspired series of totemic
sculptures called Personnages. These were thin, vertical forms
of stone or wood which evoke the human body. They were installed in clusters
to suggest a small crowd or family. Personnages was meant to symbolise
the artist's emotional background and family life. It is also seen as
an early form of feminist art
which only came of age during the 1970s. (See also the feminist work of
Judy Chicago.) An example
is Quarantania I, which is composed of 5 figures, and was showed
at her 1949 exhibition. At the centre is a woman carrying packages, surrounded
by several women, shaped like shuttles. The shuttle was one of the tools
her parents used when they restored Aubusson tapestries, and thus are
associated with her childhood. The figures are precariously balanced on
the point that fixes them to the base of the sculpture, yet they are united
in supporting each other. Each figure is independent, yet supportive.
In the late 1980s and early 1990s Bourgeois created as series of free-standing
sculptural works called Cells. Within the cells she placed items
of value to her. Some of the cells were made of glass, some were steel
cases, and others were wood. Into the cells she placed items like perfume
bottles, model homes, a guillotine and broken furniture. Examples include
Precious liquids (1992) and Cell (Choisy, 1990-93).
Then came the series of works of public art
that made Louise Bourgeois a household name. In 1999 she created Maman
(Guggenheim Museum Bilbao), a huge stainless steel and marble structure
of a spider, which is over 30 feet high. It was one of the most ambitious
undertakings of the artist's career, and evokes emotions from her childhood.
It alludes to motherhood, with concepts of spinning, weaving, nurturing
and protection. The artist stated: '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 a spider, 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.'
Maman made its first appearance as part of Bourgeois' 2000 exhibition
in the huge Turbine Hall of the Tate
Gallery (which has proven to be one of the most popular exhibitions
ever held at the museum). The spider was reassembled for the Guggenheim
Museum Bilbao). Several bronze castings of Maman exist, one of
which was acquired by the Tate Modern after the exhibition. The Director
of the museum stated: 'To acquire Maman, one of Louise Bourgeoiss
best-known and seminal works, the largest of her Spider sculptures, is
an historic moment for Tate. This work significantly enhances our holdings
of the work of one of the greatest living sculptors.' Others casts are
on view at the Samsung Museum of Art, Seoul; Mori Art Center, Tokyo and
the National Gallery of Canada, Ottawa.
Awards and Recognition
In 1993 Bourgeois represented America at the Venice Biennale and in 1999
she participated in the Melbourne International Biennial. In 2007 the
BBC made a documentary 'Spiderwoman' about her famous Maman sculptures.
Leading contemporary British artists like Antony
Gormley, Stella Vine, Dorothy
Cross and Tracey Emin
were interviewed and described her as one of the greatest living female
artists. In 2008 a documentary called Louise Bourgeois: The Spider,
the Mistress and the Tangerine was filmed. In 2008 the Tate Modern
held a retrospective exhibition of 200 of her works including drawings,
prints and paintings. She died in 2010 aged 98.
Important Works By Louise Bourgeois
C.O.Y.O.T.E (1941-48) National Gallery
of Australia, Canberra.
Dagger Child (1947-49) Solomon R Guggenheim Museum, New York.
Torso (1963-4) Galerie Karsten, Cologne/private collection.
Destruction of the Father (1974) Museum of Modern Art, New York.
Nature Study Eyes (1984) Albright-Knox Art Gallery, Buffalo, NY.
Le Defi (1991) Solomon R Guggenheim Museum, New York.
Three Horizontals (1998) Daros Exhibitions, Zurich.
Maman (1999) Tate Modern, London.
Louise Bourgeois is represented in many of the best
art museums in the world, including: Samuel R Guggenheim Museum New
York; Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, Washington DC; Museum of
Fine Arts, Houston; National Gallery of Australia, Canberra; Brooklyn
Museum, NY; Centre Pompidou, Paris (exhibition held in 2008); Galerie
Rudolfinum, Prague; Kunstmuseum Basel, Switzerland; and the National Academy
Museum and School of Fine Arts, NY.