Louise Joséphine Bourgeois (French pronunciation: [lwiz buʁʒwa]; 25 December 1911 – 31 May 2010), was a renowned French-American artist and sculptor, best known for her contributions to both modern and contemporary art, and for her spider structures, titled Maman, which resulted in her being nicknamed the Spiderwoman. She is recognized today as the founder of confessional art.
In the late 1940s, after moving to New York City with her American husband, Robert Goldwater, she turned to sculpture. Though her works are abstract, they are suggestive of the human figure and express themes of betrayal, anxiety, and loneliness. Her work was wholly autobiographical, inspired by her childhood trauma of discovering that her English governess was also her father’s mistress.
Bourgeois was born on 25 December 1911 in Paris, France. She was the middle child of three born to parents Josephine Fauriaux and Louis Bourgeois. Her parents owned a gallery that dealt primarily in antique tapestries. A few years after her birth, her family moved out of Paris and set up a workshop for tapestry restoration below their apartment in Choisy-le-Roi, for which Bourgeois filled in the designs where they had become worn.
By 1924 her father, a tyrannical philanderer, was indulging in an extended affair with her English teacher and nanny. According to Bourgeois, her mother, Josephine, “an intelligent, patient and enduring, if not calculating, person”, was aware of her husband's infidelity, but found it easier to turn a blind eye. Bourgeois, an alert little girl, hoarded her memories in her diaries.
As a child, Bourgeois did not meet her fathers expectations due to her lack of ability. Eventually, he came to adore her for her talent and spirit, but she continued to hate him for his explosive temper, domination of the household, and for teasing her in front of others.
In 1930, Bourgeois entered the Sorbonne to study mathematics and geometry, subjects that she valued for their stability.
“ I got peace of mind, only through the study of rules nobody could change. ”
—Louise Bourgeois, The New York Times
Her mother died in 1932, while Bourgeois was studying mathematics. Her mother's death inspired her to abandon mathematics and to begin studying art. Her father thought modern artists were wastrels, and refused to support her. She continued to study art through joining classes where translators were needed for English-speaking students, in which those translators were not charged tuition. In one such class Fernand Léger saw her work and told her she was a sculptor, not a painter.
Bourgeois graduated from the Sorbonne in 1935, and continued to study at the Académie de la Grande Chaumière in Paris in 1937, where she studied from 1937 to 1938 and at various other art schools, such as the École du Louvre and the École des Beaux-Arts. During the time in which she was enrolled at the École des Beaux-Arts, she turned to her father's infidelities for inspiration. She discovered her creative impulse in her childhood traumas and tensions.
Bourgeois had a desire for first-hand experience, and frequently visited studios in Paris, learning techniques from the artists and assisting with exhibitions.
Bourgeois briefly opened a print store beside her father's tapestry workshop. Her father helped her on the grounds that she had entered into a commerce driven profession.
Bourgeois met her husband Robert Goldwater, an American art historian noted for his pioneering work in the field then referred to as primitive art, in 1938 at Bourgeois' print store. Goldwater had visited the store to purchase a selection of prints by Pablo Picasso, and "in between talks about surrealism and the latest trends, [they] got married." They migrated to New York City the same year, where Goldwater resumed his career as professor of the arts at New York University Institute of Fine Arts, while Bourgeois attended the Art Students League of New York, studying painting under Vaclav Vytlacil, and also producing sculptures and prints.
Bourgeois had been unable to conceive by 1939, so she and Goldwater briefly returned to France to adopt a French child, Michel. However, in 1940, she gave birth to another son, Jean-Louis, and in 1941, she gave birth to Alain.
* Information directly relating to Louise Bourgeois during the period between 1946 and 1967 In 1954, Bourgeois joined the American Abstract Artists Group, with several contemporaries, among them Barnett Newman and Ad Reinhardt. At this time she also befriended the artists Willem De Kooning, Mark Rothko, and Jackson Pollock. In 1958, Bourgeois and her husband moved into a terraced house at West 22nd Street, in Chelsea, Manhattan, where she both worked and lived for the rest of her life.
In 1973, Bourgeois began teaching at the Pratt Institute, Cooper Union, and the New York Studio School of Drawing, Painting and Sculpture.
Bourgeois received her first retrospective in 1981, by the Museum of Modern Art in New York City. Until then, she had been a peripheral figure in art whose work was more admired than acclaimed. In an interview with Artforum, timed to coincide with the opening of her retrospective, she revealed that the imagery in her sculptures was wholly autobiographical. She confided to the world that she obsessively relived through her art the trauma of discovering, as a child, that her English governess was also her father’s mistress.
In 1993, when the Royal Academy of Arts staged its comprehensive survey of American art in the 20th century, the organisers did not consider Bourgeois' work of significant importance to include in the survey.
In 2010, in the last year of her life, Bourgeois used her art to speak up for LGBT equality. She created the piece I Do, depicting two flowers growing from one stem, to benefit the nonprofit organization Freedom to Marry.
“ Everyone should have the right to marry. To make a commitment to love someone forever is a beautiful thing. ”
—Louise Bourgeois, Freedom To Marry
Bourgeois had a history of activism on behalf of LGBT equality, having created artwork for the AIDS activist organization ACT UP in 1993.
Bourgeois died of heart failure on 31 May 2010, at the Beth Israel Medical Center in New York City. Wendy Williams, the managing director of the Louise Bourgeois Studio, announced her death. She had continued to create artwork until her death, her last pieces were finished the week before.
The New York Times said that her work "shared a set of repeated themes, centered on the human body and its need for nurture and protection in a frightening world."
Her husband, Robert Goldwater, died in 1973. She is survived by two sons, Alain Bourgeois and Jean-Louis Bourgeois. Her third son, Michel, died in 1990.
A brief paragraph detailing "Cells" and "Destruction Of the Farther" (together with "Maman", are her three most notable pieces).
See also: List of artworks by Louise Bourgeois
Bourgeois' Maman sculpture at the Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao.
In the late 1990s, Bourgeois began using the spider as a central image in her art. Maman, which stands more than nine metres high, is a steel and marble sculpture from which an edition of six bronzes were subsequently cast. It first made an appearance as part of Bourgeois’ commission for The Unilever Series for Tate Modern’s Turbine Hall in 2000. It is the largest Spider sculpture ever made by Bourgeois.
The sculpture alludes to the strength of her mother, with metaphors of spinning, weaving, nurture and protection.
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 spiders, 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.
– Louise Bourgeois
o 1994 – Louise Bourgeois: The Locus of Memory Works 1982-1993. Harry N. Abrams. pp. 144. ISBN 0810931273.
o 1996 – Louise Bourgeois: Drawings and Observations. Bulfinch. pp. 192. ISBN 0821222996.
o 1998 – Louise Bourgeois Destruction of the Father / Reconstruction of the Father. MIT Press. pp. 384. ISBN 0262522462.
o 2000 – Louise Bourgeois: Memory and Architecture. Actar. pp. 316. ISBN 8480031883.
o 2001 – Louise Bourgeois: The Insomnia Drawings. Scalo Publishers. pp. 580. ISBN 390824739X.
o 2001 – Louise Bourgeois' Spider: The Architecture of Art-Writing. University Of Chicago Press. pp. 88. ISBN 0226035751.
o 2008 – Louise Bourgeois: The Secret of the Cells. Prestel USA. pp. 168. ISBN 3791340077.
o 2008 – Bourgeois, Louise. Louise Bourgeois: The Spider, the Mistress, and the Tangerine. Zeitgeist Films.
o 1947 – Persistent Antagonism at San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, San Francisco.
o 1949 – Untitled at Art Institute of Chicago, Chicago.
o 1967 – Untitled at National Academy of Design, New York City.
o 1972 – Number Seventy-Two at Storm King Art Center, Mountainville.
o 1982 – Eyes, marble sculpture, at Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York City.
o 1984 – Nature Study: Eyes at Albright-Knox Art Gallery, Buffalo.
o 1992 – Sainte Sebastienne at Dallas Museum of Art, Dallas.
o 1994 – The Nest at San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, San Francisco.
o 1995 – Exhibition at Galerie Rudolfinum, Prague.
o 1997 – Maman at Kemper Museum of Contemporary Art, Kansas City.
o 1999 – Maman at Guggenheim Museum Bilbao, Bilbao.
o 2000 – Fallen Woman at Galleria d'arte moderna Palazzo Forti, Verona.
o 2007 – Maman at Tate Modern, London.
o 2008 – Exhibition at Centre Georges Pompidou, Paris.
o 2008 – Louise Bourgeois Full Career Retrospective at Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York.
Honors and awards
o 1991 – Lifetime Achievement in Contemporary Sculpture Award.
o 1997 – National Medal of Arts.
o 2008 – National Order of the Legion of Honour.
o 2009 – "Commandeur" of the pataphysical Ordre de la Grande Gidouille.
This article contains too many quotations for an encyclopedic entry. Please help improve the article by removing excessive quotations or transferring them to Wikiquote. Help is available. (June 2010)
In October 2007, The Guardian published an article titled Kisses for Spiderwoman. The article consisted of five interviews with British contemporary artists; Rachel Whiteread, Dorothy Cross, Stella Vine, Richard Wentworth and Jane and Louise Wilson, about how Bourgeois' art inspired them.
“ I became aware of Louise Bourgeois in my first or second year at Brighton Art College. One of my teachers, Stuart Morgan, curated a small retrospective of her work at the Serpentine, and both he and another teacher, Edward Allington, saw something in her, and me, and thought I should be aware of her. I thought the work was wonderful. It was her very early pieces, The Blind Leading the Blind, the wooden pieces and some of the later bronze works. Biographically, I don't really think she has influenced me, but I think there are similarities in our work. We have both used the home as a kind of kick-off point, as the space that starts the thoughts of a body of work. I eventually got to meet Louise in New York, soon after I made House. She asked to see me because she had seen a picture of House in the New York Times while she was ironing it one morning, so she said. She was wonderful and slightly kind of nutty; very interested and eccentric. She drew the whole time; it was very much a salon with me there as her audience, watching her. I remember her remarking that I was shorter than she was. I don't know if this was true but she was commenting on the physicality of making such big work and us being relatively small women. When you meet her you don't know what's true, because she makes things up. She has spun her web and drawn people in, and eaten a few people along the way. ”
—Rachel Whiteread, The Guardian
“ If I think of influences in my life, it goes Giacometti, Bacon, Bourgeois. You move from Giacometti's skeletal, ethereal representation into Bacon, who is getting into drama and putting some meat on the bones. Louise goes further by including the viewer in the drama. The first show of hers that I saw, in New York at the end of the Seventies, involved parts of houses, … the paraphernalia of real life, and you could walk into them. I remember a staircase in the middle of a dim, dark room, with a little door in the side. You opened the door and there was a little blue rubber heart hanging on a hook under the stairs. That piece really stuck in my mind: there was something extremely secretive and fabulous about it.
She's brilliant at tying the body into space, recognisable domestic space that's intimate rather than removed or heroic. Even the giant spider in the Turbine Hall at Tate Modern was a wonderful scale-up of the intimacy of her work; it worked very well considering it's an especially hard space to handle. There's adventure in the way she works, and a delight at exploration you wouldn't find in many other artists. Most people who are financially successful repeat themselves until they're dead but Louise has continued to make new work, even into her nineties.
—Dorothy Cross, The Guardian
“ Louise Bourgeois is one of the greatest ever artists. So few female artists have been recognised as truly important, and you have to be really strong and brave to last as long as she has. It's incredible: she's known all these great men and outlived them all. It wasn't really until that sinister fairytale in the Tate's Turbine Hall in 2000 - the incredible-looking glasses and windy stairs, and the spider - that I became seriously interested in her. I walked in and just gasped and went, 'This is for me.' I love the juxtaposition of sinister, controlling elements and full-on macho materials with a warm, nurturing and cocoon-like feminine side. I gather she's had to deal with a lot of anger, jealousy and rage in her past but she still treats the female and the male with love and compassion - there's no silly anti-male thing in her work. You're allowed to feel in its presence. If I had to choose one thing she's done it would be one of the enormous penises, which I've always wanted to pick up and touch when the security guards weren't looking. They're tender and full of passion and love, and there's a little bit of comedy in there. ”
—Stella Vine, The Guardian
“ I think she's really necessary. Assessing her is like asking what a mountain does: it's simply there. I really like that she's a French artist who went to America: usually it was the other way round, with Americans rocking up in Paris in the Twenties and Thirties. I like the ways she speaks about her family and its tensions. When the work is very illustrative it interests me less, but I like that the fuel for the work is very emotional. She works in lots of different ways, and one of the most refreshing things is that you can't necessarily spot a Louise Bourgeois. That's the sign of a really good artist - although afterwards you think, 'Well of course it's a Louise Bourgeois.' I'm a sucker for any of the pieces with mirrors in them - that's my soft point. In New York in the Seventies she was one of those people I'd heard about before I really knew what she did. I was a friend of Stuart Morgan, who used to stay with her, and he was always coming back with Louise stories. One got the feeling of immense determination and persistence, which, in the gossipy way, can come over as being impossible and all the rest of it. ”
—Richard Wentworth, The Guardian
“ We're interested in Louise Bourgeois because of the way she archives memory in architecture. Her installations have a strong psychological tension within them, and I think we definitely cross over on that basis. The first time we came in contact with her was in the early Nineties when we went to an event at her studio in Brooklyn. We got to see the spider pieces she was working on before they showed in the Turbine Hall, and there were all these delicious cheeses and nibbles laid out within the work - you had to go underneath to get them. She struck us as being a pretty out-there kind of person. ”
—Jane and Louise Wilson, The Guardian
o Louise Bourgeois with FEMME VOLAGE (1951, Coll: Guggenheim Museum, New York)
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19. ^ Louise Bourgeois Full Career Retrospective
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o Herskovic, Marika (2003). American Abstract Expressionism of the 1950s: An Illustrated Survey. New York School Press. pp. 372. ISBN 0-9677994-1-4.
o Herskovic, Marika (2000). New York School: Abstract Expressionists. New York School Press. pp. 393. ISBN 0-9677994-0-6.
o Armstrong, Carol (2006). Women Artists at the Millennium. October Books. pp. 408. ISBN 026201226X.
o Bourgeois, Louise. Interview with Rachel Cooke. My art is a form of restoration. 2007-10-14.
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