Louise Bourgeois, Couple IV, 1997, Fabric, leather, stainless steel and plastic, 50.8 x 165.1 x 77.5 cm. Wood and glass, Victorian vitrine: 182.9 x 208.3 x 109.2 cm. Courtesy Cheim & Read and Hauser & Wirth, Photo: Christopher Burke.

Louise Bourgeois, the Theory, and Practice of Psychoanalysis

Louise Bourgeois with Cell (Arch of Hysteria), in progress in 1992. Photo: James Hamilton.

Louise Bourgeois, Untitled, c. 1970, Oval: paint on board, 47 x 59"; 119.3 x 149.8 cm. Private Collection, New York, Photo: Christopher Burke.

Louise Bourgeois, Janus Fleuri, 1968, Bronze, gold patina, hanging piece, 25.7 x 31.8 x 21.3 cm. Courtesy Cheim & Read and Hauser & Wirth, Photo: Christopher Burke.

Louise Bourgeois, Arch of Hysteria, 1993, Bronze, polished patina, hanging piece, 83.8 x 101.6 x 58.4 cm., Courtesy Cheim & Read and Hauser & Wirth, Photo: Allan Finkelman.

Louise Bourgeois, Red Room (Parent), 1994, Mixed media, 247.7 x 426.7 x 424.2 cm. Collection Ursula Hauser, Switzerland, Photo: Peter Bellamy.

Louise Bourgeois in her studio, circa 1946. Photo: Louise Bourgeois Archive.

Louise Bourgeois working on Sleep II in Italy in 1967. Photo: Studio Fotografico, I. Bessi, Carrara.

Louise Bourgeois, Le Défi II, 1992, Painted wood, glass and electric lights, 200.7 x 179.7 x 59.7 cm. Courtesy Cheim & Read and Hauser & Wirth, Photo: Peter Bellamy.

Louise Bourgeois, Sleep II, 1967, Marble, 59.4 x 76.8 x 60.3 cm. Wood base: 28 x 84 x 71 cm. Courtesy Cheim & Read and Hauser & Wirth, Photo: Peter Bellamy.

Louise Bourgeois, Art is a Guarantyof Sanity, 2000, Pencil on pink paper, 27.9 x 21.5 cm. Collection Museum of Modern Art, New York, Photo: Christopher Burke.

Louise Bourgeois, Nature Study, 1984-2002, Blue rubber, 76.2 x 48.3 x 38.1 cm. Stainless steel base: 104.1 x 55.2 x 55.2 cm. Courtesy Cheim & Read and Hauser & Wirth, Photo: Christopher Burke.

Louise Bourgeois, The Feeding, 2007, Gouache on paper, 60 x 45.7 cm. Collection Museum of Modern Art, New York, Photo: Christopher Burke.

Louise Bourgeois, Fée Couteriére, 1963, Bronze, painted white, hanging piece. 100.3 x 57.2 x 57.2 cm. Courtesy Cheim & Read and Hauser & Wirth, Photo: Christopher Burke.


Fundación Proa
Avenida Pedro de Mendoza 1929
+ [54-11] 4104-1000
Buenos Aires
Louise Bourgeois: The Return of the Repressed
March 19-June 19, 2011


More than any artist of the 20th century, Louise Bourgeois (1911-2010) produced a body of work that consistently and profoundly engaged with psychoanalytic theory and practice. While Surrealists may have tapped into dream imagery and Abstract Expressionists linked gestural spontaneity to the unconscious, Bourgeois’s art offers insight into the linkage between the creative process and its cathartic function. As a whole, her art and writings represent an original contribution to psychoanalytic inquiry into symbol formation, the unconscious, the talking cure, the family romance, maternal and paternal identifications, and the fragmented body. Through her exploration of materials, forms, and sculptural processes Bourgeois finds a plastic equivalent for the psychological states and mechanisms of fear, ambivalence, compulsion, guilt, aggression, and withdrawal.

Bourgeois considered the act of making art as her “form of psychoanalysis”, and believed that through it she had direct access to the unconscious. In her view the artist, powerless in everyday life, possesses the gift of sublimation and becomes omnipotent during the creative act. Yet the artist is also a tormented, Sisyphean figure condemned endlessly to repeat the trauma through artistic production. Hence the very process of making art is a form of exorcism, a means of relieving tension and aggression. It is also, like psychoanalysis, a source of self-knowledge. Or as Bourgeois has often said, “Art is a guaranty of sanity”.

Bourgeois’s career as an artist in New York began with solo exhibitions of paintings in 1945 and 1947 followed by three exhibitions of her wood sculptures and environmental installations in 1949, 1950, and 1953. She would not have another solo show of new work again until 1964, when she presented an innovative body of abstract sculpture at the famous Stable Gallery in New York. These seminal forms in plaster, rubber, and latex were included in Lucy Lippard’s epochal exhibition Eccentric Abstraction at the Fischbach Gallery in New York in 1966, along with Bruce Nauman and Eva Hesse. Yet where Nauman and Hesse arrived at post minimalist forms by way of philosophy and conceptualism, Bourgeois’s evolution was informed and inspired by her own experience of psychoanalysis.

Bourgeois began psychoanalysis with Dr. Leonard Cammer in 1951, the year her father died. In 1952 she switched to the analyst Henry Lowenfeld. Born in Berlin in 1900, a former disciple of Freud in Vienna, Lowenfeld moved to New York in the same year as Bourgeois (1938), and there became an important member of the New York Psychoanalytic Society, publishing widely. Bourgeois would remain in therapy with Lowenfeld until the early 1980s. During a period of withdrawal and depression in the 1950s, Bourgeois not only underwent analysis but also steeped herself in psychoanalytic literature, from Sigmund Freud to Erik Erikson, Anna Freud, Melanie Klein, Heinz Kohut, Susanne Langer, Otto Rank, Wilhelm Reich, and Wilhelm Stekel.

Prior to her retrospective at the Tate Modern in 2007, two boxes of writings were discovered in Bourgeois’s home, followed by two more in 2010. These writings, which have never been published, serve to augment and enrich our understanding of Bourgeois’s artistic development and fill in the gap in her otherwise copious diaries and process notes. In literary quality and historical importance they may be compared to the journals of Eugène Delacroix and the letters of Vincent van Gogh. They constitute a parallel body of work expressing her struggle to come to terms with her psychic life and the legacy of her past. In these documents Bourgeois records and analyses her dreams, emotions, and anxieties, and in particular her conflicted feelings about being simultaneously a creative artist and a mother and wife. The linkage between feeling, thought, and sculptural process becomes clearly delineated. At the same time these writings, like her sculptural works, critique psychoanalytic theory in its relationship to female sexuality and identity. These writings illuminate her transition from the figurative works of her Abstract Expressionist period to the abstract pieces that ushered in the Post minimalist tendency, and articulate how her relationship to psychoanalysis remained active until the end of her life.

Gallery 1 Bourgeois’ spiders are an homage to her mother. They symbolize protection, nurturing, and reconciliation. Spider (1997) is one of Bourgeois’ series of Cells, installations made in the 1990s that explore memory and desire through the five senses. Here the spider’s web is given an architectural form in the cage that encloses objects from Bourgeois’ past. Bourgeois was obsessed with her past and yet, wished to be liberated from it in order to experience the present. Thus, the cage can be viewed as both refuge and trap (hence the animal bones).

Inside the cage, Bourgeois placed the glass cupping jars, which as an adolescent she placed on her mother’s back when the latter was sick with Spanish flu. The tapestries refer to the family atelier in which the young Bourgeois drew in the feet that were missing from tapestries that needed to be rewoven. In one fragment of tapestry, the genitals of the •putti• have been cut out, as her mother had done to appease their puritanical American clients. Her mother replaced the holes with flowers, and kept a collection of cutout fragments of male genitalia. The hanging forms are aides-memoire consisting of perfume, a photograph, a locket, and a cloth, which serve to conjure the past.

While under analysis, the patient sits in the chair and attempts to give a form to the inchoate mass of sensory perceptions, memories, and emotions Psychoanalysis is the process of tracing the etiology of neuroses by excavating one’s past.

The suite of engravings He Disappeared Into Complete Silence (1947) consists of nine plates pairing terse, fabulist texts with vertical architectural forms that, in their isolation from one another, parallel the contemporaneous Personnages and deal with the inability of people to communicate with each other.

Gallery 2 The monolithic Personnages were created between 1946 and 1953, and were exhibited in three successive exhibitions at Peridot Gallery in New York (1949, 1950, and 1953). Originally carved in wood, they were later cast in bronze. Conceived as an installation, these fragile, top-heavy works had to be bolted directly into the floor or else they would fall over. Bourgeois wanted the viewer to be able to walk among these works, as if in a social environment. Bourgeois thought of these vertical forms as substitutes for the people she had left behind in France when she moved to New York City in 1938 (or in some cases as fetishistic surrogates for the people she loved the most, such as her son Jean-Louis). Thus, as the term Personnage implies, they are sculptural representations of the human figure. By making these surrogates portables Bourgeois ensured that they were dependent on and inseparable from her, which expresses in reverse her fear of abandonment. Dagger Child (1950) communicates the defensiveness and vulnerability that also characterizes the later fabric work Knife Woman (2002), wherein a woman or child appropriates the aggression associated with the phallus. Untitled (1963) exemplifies a later development within the same body of work, involving the stacking of segmented elements around a central vertical axis — an action that has its therapeutic implications, for it was in 1951 that the death of her father pushed Bourgeois into a full-blown depression and into analysis with Dr. Henry Lowenfeld. The need to create these assemblages is rooted in a powerful fear of fragmentation and psychic disintegration, pointing as well to the deconstruction and reconstruction the patient undergoes in analysis. The physical action of carving and separating were outlets for Bourgeois’s fear, hostility, and aggression.

Bourgeois’ most intense period in analysis took place between 1952 and 1967, during which time she followed the classical Freudian formula of four one-hour sessions per week with Dr. Lowenfeld. Psychoanalysis endowed her with a more conscious understanding of the meanings and the emotional needs behind her Personnages, just as it informed the works, which she made during the late 1950s and early 60s and exhibited at the Stable Gallery in New York City in 1964, after a hiatus of 11 years.

Consisting of seemingly amorphous forms in plaster and latex with raw exteriors and intricate interiors, works such as Lair (1963), Fée Couturière (1963), and Amoeba (1963-65) resemble shells or animal cocoons, structures for hiding and protecting herself. These works give way to poured plastic and resin formations such as Soft Landscape (1967), End of Softness (1967), and Unconscious Landscape (1967-68) that suggest a metamorphosis frozen in time. Out of these soft landscapes emerge protuberances and coagulations that stretch and sometimes penetrate the surface like a discharge of excitations. Other works from this period, such as Janus Fleuri (1968), Fillette (1969), and Le Trani Episode (1971) became more sexually explicit: part objects and hybridized forms that merge male and female in an uncanny and ambivalent fusion.

Like the return of the repressed, Bourgeois’ themes reappear throughout her career, and though her body of work can be read chronologically, the evolution of her sculptural forms is less like a linear narrative and more like one of her favorite form: the spiral. Hence the works in this room bring together discrete bodies of work made in different media, processes, and scales, and yet they reflect the singular pathology that unites her oeuvre as a whole.

As a defense against her deep-seated fear of separation and abandonment, in the 1990s Bourgeois began to incorporate fabric materials from her life, such as towels, linens, bed sheets, and clothes into her work. These objects contain and embody memories; they are markers of time, of people and places she has known.  The impulse to use these kinds of material derives in part from a characteristically ambivalent desire to dispose of her past and at the same time by incorporating them into her art, she assures that they will survive.  In contrast to such aggressive actions as cutting and carving, joining through the process of sewing is a symbolic action that conveys the desire for reparation and reconciliation.  This process is also an act of identification that places Bourgeois in the position of her mother, who was a tapestry restorer in the family business.

Bourgeois began using the device of hanging as a formal strategy from the 1960s onwards, from Fée Couturière (1963) and Hanging Janus with Jacket (1968) to Arch of Hysteria (1993) and Single I (1996). To hang a sculpture is to emphasize its fragility and vulnerability. No position is fixed or final, as the hanging forms are able to spin and turn.  The form traced in the air by these motions is the spiral, with its double movement of turning inwards (signifying retreat and withdrawal) and outwards (signifying acceptance, an opening up to life). As Bourgeois stated: “Horizontality is a desire to give up, to sleep. Verticality is an attempt to escape. Hanging and floating are states of ambivalence and doubt”.

Gallery 3 Rather than be dependent on architectural spaces, Bourgeois began creating her own architecture in a series called Cells that contain objects both belonging to the artist and made by her. Red Room (Parents) is a dramatic staging of the psychoanalytic concept of the primal scene, where the child enters into the bedroom witnesses her parents in coitus and tries to make sense of what he perceives. As Freud noted, the primal scene is often a fantasy. For Bourgeois, red is the color of violence, passion, blood, and emotional intensity. 

The Femme Maison (1946-47) paintings touch upon the problem of identity for women.  Here, the heads of nude female figures have been replaced by architectural forms, resulting in a symbolic condensation of the conflict between domestic and sexual roles. For Bourgeois architecture symbolizes the social world that attempts to define the individual, in contrast to the inner world of emotion. The tension between figure and architecture mirrors the dichotomy between mind and body. Bourgeois suffered from acute agoraphobia, and often withdrew into her house for protection. Yet, as Bourgeois wrote, “the security of the lair can also become a trap.”

The Destruction of the Father (1974) is the culmination of the works Bourgeois made in the 1960s and early 70s, synthesizing the cave-like structure of the lairs, the primordial forms of the soft landscapes, and the more explicit sexual attributes of works such as Sleep II (1967). According to Bourgeois’ account, she was reenacting a childhood revenge fantasy of revolt against her father who gloats and brags at the dinner table and whom, in exasperation, she dismembers and devours. In Bourgeois’ visual realm, each thing contains the form of appearance of its opposite. The pendulous breast-like forms set within a recessed interior like an orifice express the wish to return to the womb and be reunited with the lost mother. More, to be “eaten” by the mother or to “eat” the father is an act with strong sexual and incestuous overtones. The tension of all of Bourgeois’ work resides in the unresolved and irresolvable contradictions between binary oppositions— male and female, conscious and unconscious, past and present, active and passive, inside and outside, pleasure and unpleasure.

Gallery 4 Throughout her life, Bourgeois suffered from an intense fear of abandonment. The fabric text piece I Am Afraid (2009) deftly links three images — “empty stomach/ empty house/ empty bottles” — in a condensed metaphor that expresses this fear by stringing together body and architecture, container and contained. Le Défi II (1992) speaks to the need for restraint and self-control and to Bourgeois’s awareness that human relationships are fragile. The “challenge” of which the French title speaks is the challenge to resist the urge to give way to aggression or hostility, which may unsettle the precariously balanced cabinet, with its carefully placed and easily broken glass elements. These elements may also be read as symbols of the internal organs, and the entire cabinet as another architectural metaphor for the human body. Their transparency signifies a world without secrets, Bourgeois’ compulsion to confess everything out of a desire for forgiveness.

Couple IV (1996) presents a man and a woman in black fabric in the sexual act placed within a 19th century Victorian vitrine. The female figure is wearing a prosthesis, suggesting that she is incomplete, perhaps wounded, as are so many of Bourgeois’ representations of women.  Despite her handicap, she is defined by her relationship to him and fearful of being separated from this desire. Conscious and Unconscious (2008) recapitulates in fabric elements the stacked forms of her earlier segmented Personnages, just as the more organic form in blue rubber recalls the soft forms of the 1960s. The five spools symbolize Bourgeois’ two families of five (the family into which she was born and the family she had with her husband Robert Goldwater), and evoke the Bourgeois family tapestry atelier. The thin threads express both the tenuous connection of the five family members and the strands of memory embedded in the unconscious.

This room was conceived in hommage to one of Bourgeois’ favorite phrases, “pink days” (good days) and “blue days” (bad days). If the preceding room is more somber and brooding in tone, dwelling upon the difficulty and fragility of human relationships, this room is lighter and more delicate. In Nature Study (1984-2002) animal and human, male and female sexual parts are fused in an uncanny hybrid.  The male genital is protected by the multiple breasts, just as Louise felt she was protecting her husband and three sons.  Mamelles (1991) consists of a cluster of breasts, part objects that form a bodily landscape and signifies the nourishing mother. The red gouaches made late in Bourgeois’ career show her honing in on the most universal events and cycles of human life: birth, copulation, insemination, gestation, family and death. In The Family (2008) distinct moments — penetration, pregnancy, and motherhood – are collapsed into each gouache in this grid of nine.

The Reticent Child (2004) relates the stages of a relationship between a mother and a son.  In this work, the child is late in being born, a circumstance that will affect his entire relationship to the world. The concave mirror behind the fabric and marble figures gives back distorted images of this tableau, implying that memory, like desire, is shaped by emotion and structured in a non-linear fashion. As always in Bourgeois’ work, each image is properly dialectical and involves its opposite. Hence the iconography of nurturing and breastfeeding not only expresses Bourgeois’ concern with her role as mother but also shows her in need for a nurturing mother (hence “Maman” as if calling out for her mother) as she became more frail and dependent with age. Thus, these raw images of birth, the coming into the world and her connection to her mother, foretell the inevitability and proximity of death.

Proa Library Bourgeois drew consistently throughout her career, creating a unique corpus of drawings that balances formal inventiveness and psychological specificity. The artist maintained that, unlike sculpture, drawing did not result in an exorcism of past trauma because it did not involve the body. Yet the drawings offer an intimate record of the shuttling of her mind from past to present, passive to active, unconscious to conscious. In some works figurative elements predominate, while in others — such as Spiral (2009), which resumes a favorite form of the artist’s in the medium of red gouache, which she favored in her last years -abstraction and geometry come to the fore-. Abstraction usually indicates that the unconscious mind is in the ascendant, whereas the figure or fragments thereof are traces of a problem, which Bourgeois is consciously addressing. The singularity of her line is matched by her idiosyncratic manner of writing. In Je Les Protégerai (2002) she repeats the refrain "calme toi, petite Lison" with subtle variations. In Here and Now (1988) Bourgeois engages in a dialogue with herself.

This selection of facsimiles of the psychoanalytic writings of Bourgeois shows how closely her writerly practice mirrors her drawings. The writings were discovered in 2010 by Bourgeois’ long-time assistant Jerry Gorovoy at her Chelsea home, and immeasurably augment and enrich our understanding of the artist’s life and work. They form the kernel of this exhibition and of the accompanying publication.

The form of the writings often sheds light on her motivations and the formation of her symbols. In many of the writings, drawing elements are interspersed with text. In others, the image structures the flow of the text. Sometimes the text is organized in tightly wound coils, sometimes in lists that resemble her stacked sculptural forms.

Like her drawings, these writings, which were produced under the pressure of a psychological and emotional need rather than as a literary endeavor, offer us an intimate look at the movements of her restless mind. These facsimiles are complemented here by a selection of relevant photographs from Bourgeois' life.

Louise Bourgeois, Rejection, 2001, Fabric, steel and lead, 63.5 x 33 x 30.5 cm. Aluminum and glass vitrine: 185.4 x 68.5 x 68.5 cm. Collection John Cheim, New York, Photo: Christopher Burke.

Louise Bourgeois, Maman, 1999, Bronze, stainless steel and marble, 927.1 x 891.5 x 1023.6 cm. Installed in Fundación Proa, Buenos Aires, Private collection, courtesy Cheim & Read, New York.

Louise Bourgeois, Maman, 1999, Bronze, stainless steel and marble, 927.1 x 891.5 x 1023.6 cm. Installed in the Jardin des Tuileries, Paris, Private collection, courtesy Cheim & Read, New York, Photo: Georges Meguerditchian, Centre Pompidou, 2008.

Louise Bourgeois, Femme Maison, 1946-1947, Oil and ink on linen, 91.4 x 35.6 cm. Courtesy Cheim & Read and Hauser & Wirth, Photo: Rafael Lobato.

Louise Bourgeois, Mamelles, 1991, Pigmented urethane rubber, wall relief, 48.3 x 304.8 x 48.3 cm. Courtesy Cheim & Read and Hauser & Wirth, Photo: Lee Stalsworth.

Louise Bourgeois, The Destruction of the Father, 1974, Plaster, latex, wood, fabric and red light, 237.8 x 362.2 x 248.6 cm. Courtesy Cheim & Read and Hauser & Wirth, Photo: Rafael Lobato.

Louise Bourgeois, Cell (The Last Climb), 2008, steel, wood, blown glass, rubber, and spools of thread, 384.8 x 400.1 x 299.7 cm installed, Purchased 2010, National Gallery of Canada (no. 43031), © Louise Bourgeois Trust.

Installation view of Louise Bourgeois (1911-2010): works from the Personages series and Forêt (Night Garden). Collections NGC and Louise Bourgeois Trust, courtesy Cheim & Read Gallery, New York, and Hauser & Wirth Gallery, London. © Louise Bourgeois Trust. Photo © NGC.

Louis Bourgeois, a Coda, Sculpture and Drawings, 1949-2008

Louise Bourgeois. Diary entry, 22 February 1949: “the aetiology of hysteria by / Freud / hysterical symptoms can / always be traced to / repressed sexual memories / usually having occurred (experienced) / the memories may become / conscious much later, at puberty / my father walking around in / his nightshirt holding his genitals.” LBD-1949.

Installation view of Louise Bourgeois (1911-2010): works from the Personages series and Forêt (Night Garden). Collections NGC and Louise Bourgeois Trust, courtesy Cheim & Read Gallery, New York, and Hauser & Wirth Gallery, London. © Louise Bourgeois Trust. Photo © NGC.

Installation view of Louise Bourgeois (1911-2010): works from the Personages series and Forêt (Night Garden). Collections NGC and Louise Bourgeois Trust, courtesy Cheim & Read Gallery, New York, and Hauser & Wirth Gallery, London. © Louise Bourgeois Trust. Photo © NGC.

Louise Bourgeois, Echo IV, 2007, Bronze, painted white, and steel, Collection Louise Bourgeois Trust, courtesy Cheim & Read Gallery, New York and Hauser & Wirth Gallery, London. © Louise Bourgeois Trust. Photo: Christopher Burks.

Louise Bourgeois, The Couple (detail) 2007, Gouache on paper, suite of 18, Collection Louise Bourgeois Trust, courtesy Cheim & Read Gallery, New York and Hauser & Wirth Gallery, London. © Louise Bourgeois Trust. Photo: Christopher Burks.

Louise Bourgeois working on Sleep II (Dream II), Italy, 1967. Photo: Photographic Studio, I. Bessi, Carrara.


National Gallery of Canada
380 Sussex Drive
Contemporary Art Galleries B109 and B105
Louise Bourgeois 1911-2010
April 21, 2011-March 18, 2012

The National Gallery of Canada (NGC) pays tribute to the French-born, American artist, who is best known in Ottawa for her majestic bronze spider Maman that greets visitors on the museum's plaza and whose work the NGC has been collecting for nearly two decades. Louise Bourgeois 1911-2010 offers the opportunity for viewers to view more than 20 important sculptures and drawings by the artist created between 1949 and 2008.

"Louise Bourgeois is a major figure of our era," said NGC director Marc Mayer. "This exhibition will give our visitors the opportunity to explore some of the aesthetic preoccupations of this brilliant artist. We are grateful to the generosity of the Louise Bourgeois Trust for their loans of highly significant sculptures, which date back to the beginning of her career as well as some magnificent last works."

Louise Bourgeois’ extraordinary career influenced many of the 20th-century's major movements in art and culture, from surrealism to abstract expressionism, minimalism and conceptualism to feminism. The presentation is inspired by Bourgeois' first solo show at New York's Peridot Gallery in 1949, which intimately showcased the artist's totem-like Personage sculptures in small domestically-scaled rooms. Louise Bourgeois 1911-2010 brings together 18 works loaned by the Louise Bourgeois Trust and five major pieces from the NGC collection. The installation begins with the sculptor's famous wooden Personages, carved in memory of family and friends Bourgeois left behind as she immigrated to New York in 1938 with her husband, the late art historian Robert Goldwater. One of the most famous of these sculptures, Portrait of C.Y. (1947-49), is in the Gallery's collection. In the final section of the presentation are a selection of dramatic late gouache on paper drawings and six bronze sculptures of clothing culled from Bourgeois' Echo series that recall the sentiment of the artist's much earlier pieces. In B105 is Cell (The Last Climb), a reverential late work acquired by the NGC in 2010 that movingly reflects on the life of one of the 20th century's most significant creative figures.

Personages Between 1946 and 1955 Louise Bourgeois created some eighty carved painted wood sculptures known as Personages. For the most part, these monolithic forms were top- heavy and tapered to a point. They could not stand on their own, mirroring Bourgeois' psychological frailty of the period. For her first two solo sculpture exhibitions at the Peridot Gallery in New York City, in 1949 and 1950, the artist positioned the totemic spires in groupings. The spires were mounted directly on the floor and conceived as an environmental installation. The viewer enters a space that resembles people conversing at a social gathering. Bourgeois’ Personages symbolize a period of mourning for family and friends left behind in Europe when she moved to the US in 1938. She also related these free-standing sculptures to her own fears and anxieties as a wife, a mother, and a young artist at that time: “The monoliths are absolutely stiff — and show the stiffness of someone who’s afraid. The way one can say ‘he’s scared stiff’. Immobilised with fear. Stuck. This was an entire period.”

Early 1950s: Forêt (Night Garden) (1953) and Untitled (1950) Bourgeois' Personages evolved from simple to more articulated forms and from standing in isolation from each other into groupings. Bourgeois spoke of a “softening” in her work derived “from the softness of my children and of my husband ... I got the nerve to look around me, to let go. Not to be so nervous. Not to be so tense.” Aesthetically, the rigidity of the early wood sculptures begins to loosen into multiple elements piled vertically and that had the possibility to pivot, as in Untitled (1950). In Forêt (Night Garden), the artist created a crowded, more intimate congregation of bulbous wood carvings assembled on a singular base. Bourgeois described the shift in her work at this time as “a change from rigidity to pliability.” While she began to cast her personages in bronze in the late 1950s and worked with marble, steel and metal throughout her career, the idea of pliability equally prefaced an interest in liquids, latex, plastic and other non-traditional sculptural materials that would shape much of Bourgeois’ production from the 1960s until her death.

Early drawings: Untitled (1949) and Untitled (1950) Louise Bourgeois’ formal explorations in her simple yet elegant ink drawings from the late 1940s and 1950s resemble woven materials. References to weaving and tapestry are recurrent for this artist, whose parents owned a tapestry restoration business where Bourgeois spent much of her young childhood. Like many of her works, these drawings alternate between abstraction and signification, pushing the viewer from concrete reality into a purely creative environment. “Drawings,” Bourgeois stated, “are thought feathers, they are ideas that I seize in mid flight and put down on paper. All my thoughts are visual.”

Late drawings 2007 Drawing remained an active part of Louise Bourgeois’ artistic practice until the very end of her life. Some of her latest works, including The Couple (2007) and The Family (2008), are made with red gouache and express with intensity the bonds between husband and wife, and between mother and child. For Bourgeois, red is not only the colour of blood, but also of intensity, aggression and jealousy. In a 1989 interview Bourgeois plainly explained, “I have three frames of references. I have the frame of reference of my father and mother, and that of my own experience. I have the frame of reference of my children. And the three are stuck together.”

Echo Series Bourgeois began incorporating her own clothing into her installations in the mid 1990s. Her dresses, blouses and other garments had come in contact with her own body and contained memories of people, relationships and places. In 2007, Bourgeois began a series of sculptures using discarded clothing that she stretched, stitched and reconfigured, then cast into bronze, which she painted a pale white. The sculptures have an anthropomorphic quality that “echoes” the sentiment of her “personages” of the 1940s and 1950s in conjuring abstractly human characteristics. In connecting her clothing to memories in her work, Bourgeois wrote: “Time — time lived, time forgotten, time shared. What does time inflict — dust and disintegration? My reminiscences help me live in the present, and I want them to survive. I am a prisoner of my emotions. You have to tell your story, and you have to forget your story. You forget and forgive. It liberates you.”

Cell (The Last Climb)(2008) This work is the last of the more than 20 large-scale Cell sculptures she created over three decades. The structures, cluttered with mementos from her personal life, often evoke a sense of mortality, entrapment, decay — fears she herself had carried from her childhood. Here Bourgeois appears to have made peace with these anxieties. The spiral staircase, rescued from her long-time Brooklyn studio, rises out of the structure, as translucent spheres "float" towards the same opening. The elongated blue teardrop hovering halfway up the stairs represents the artist herself; the two wooden spheres below symbolize her parents. Open and ethereal, the sculpture is less obsessed with suffering than with spiritual discovery as it reflects on the inevitability of time and its relationship to events of the past.

Exhibition curator Jonathan Shaughnessy is Assistant Curator, Contemporary Art at the NGC and the curator of Louise Bourgeois 1911-2010. Recently, he coordinated Pop Life: Art in a Material World, and Real Life: Ron Mueck and Guy Ben-Ner, which just finished its Canadian tour. He has worked with numerous Canadian and international artists and was instrumental in the recent acquisition by the National Gallery of Louise Bourgeois’ monumental sculpture Cell: The Last Climb (2008).

Louise Bourgeois (Born December 25, 1911, Paris, France-Died May 31, 2010, New York, USA) Desire, identity, isolation. The art of Louise Bourgeois "grows from the duel between the isolated individual and the shared awareness of the group" (Louise Bourgeois, Destruction of the Father, Reconstruction of the Father, 1998).

After graduating from the Sorbonne in 1935, where she concentrated on math and philosophy, Bourgeois studied at art schools such as the École du Louvre, Atelier Bissière, and the École des Beaux-Arts. Three years later she enrolled in classes taught by the Modernist artist Fernand Léger, who was so impressed by her talent that he allowed her to attend without paying tuition. With a desire for first-hand experience, Bourgeois frequented the studios of Paris, learning techniques from the artists and assisting with exhibitions that toured throughout Europe.

When Bourgeois was 26, she met Robert Goldwater, a 32 year old art history teacher from the United States. They married and, two years later, moved to New York. Bourgeois immediately enrolled in the Art Students League and spent her days in the public library reading up on art. She participated in exhibitions such as The Arts in Therapy (1943), which promoted art as rehabilitation for those wounded in the war. Her first solo show, Paintings by Louise Bourgeois, took place in 1945 at the Bertha Schaefer Gallery in New York.

Bourgeois's work from 1949 to 1953 consisted of wood sculptures, often driftwood or junkyard scraps, which she carved and cut into thin, rigid, upright "figures." The wood was painted to conceal its grain and texture, then driven with nails and gouged out, leaving holes, nicks, and scratches. Viewed on their own, these figures expressed isolation, each one representing a personality, raw and exposed. Seen together, they created a social circle that represented interaction and conveyed the security of a geometric system — closed, definite, and eternal — that, to Bourgeois, represented emotional preservation.

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. Artistically, Bourgeois was exploring such issues as internal distress, fear, vulnerability, and loss of control. Working with bronze, plaster, and marble, she changed her forms from rigid, upright structures to smooth, organic shapes. She exhibited at the Whitney Biennale in 1973 and began teaching at the Pratt Institute, Cooper Union, and the New York Studio School. In experimenting with performance art, she produced A Bouquet, A Fashion of Body Parts (1978), whose cast paraded through a room wearing latex dresses with globular protrusions. In 1991 at the Carnegie International Exhibition in Pittsburgh, Bourgeois exhibited her "environmental sculpture" Cells, a series of closed, object-filled spaces.

The career of Louise Bourgeois spanned almost 70 years. "My early work is the fear of falling. Later on it became the art of falling. How to fall without hurting yourself. Later on it is the art of hanging in there" (Destruction of the Father). Through her work she has documented her experiential journey through life, portraying the residue of inner struggle confronted with the physical world.


Installation view of Louise Bourgeois (1911-2010): works from the Personages series and Forêt (Night Garden). Collections NGC and Louise Bourgeois Trust, courtesy Cheim & Read Gallery, New York, and Hauser & Wirth Gallery, London. © Louise Bourgeois Trust. Photo © NGC.

Louise Bourgeois, Arch of Hysteria, 1993, Bronze, polished patina, hanging piece, Courtesy Cheim & Read, Galerie Karsten Greve, and Galerie Hauser & Wirth, © Louise Bourgeois Photo: Allan Finkelman.

Louise Bourgeois, Seven in Bed, 2001, Fabric, stainless steel, glass and wood, 172.7 x 85.0 x 87.6 cm, 29.2 x 53.3 x 53.3 cm, Courtesy Cheim and Read, Galerie Karsten Greve and Galerie Hauser & Wirth, © Copyright Louise Bourgeois.

Louise Bourgeois' Seven Decades of Varied Artistic Practice

Louise Bourgeois, Untitled, 1996, Fabric, lace and thread, Courtesy Cheim & Read, Galerie Karsten Greve, and Galerie Hauser& Wirth, © Louise Bourgeois Photo: Peter Bellamy.

Louise Bourgeois, Femme Maison, 1947, ink on paper, 9-15/16 x 7-1/8 in., Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York, photo by Eeva Inkeri, © Louise Bourgeois.


Tate Modern
+ 44 20 7887 8888
Level 4
Louise Bourgeois
October 11-January 20, 2008

Louise Bourgeois’s long and distinguished career has engaged both modern and traditional techniques, exploring various themes in a range of styles, from abstraction to the ready-made. With over 150 works dating between 1938 and 2008, the exhibition includes the artist’s earliest paintings and works on paper; sculptures made in a variety of materials, including wood, steel, plaster, latex, marble, and bronze; large-scale installations from the 1980s and ’90s; a broad selection of drawings and prints from throughout her career; small-scale hand-made objects; and her most recent works, which utilize fabric. This unique, must-see presentation also reunites many of Bourgeois’s most well-known pieces, including The Blind Leading the Blind (1947-49), Fillette (Sweeter Version) (1968-99), and a number of her powerful Cell installations, such as Cell (Choisy) (1990-93), Cell (You’d Better Grow Up) (1993), Red Room (Child) (1994), Red Room (Parents) (1994), and Spider (1997). Louise Bourgeois is an opportunity to discover the artist’s most important works and explore the core themes that unite them across media.

Louise Bourgeois, the exhibition, spans seven decades of varied and prolific artistic output ranging from small scale experimental works to large scale installations from the 1980s and 1990s.

Bourgeois has said that her childhood, which was rich with both craft and symbolism, is the source all of her artwork and its themes. Born to a family of weavers, Bourgeois spent her early years surrounded by fabrics and textiles, as she played an active role in her family’s business of repairing and restoring tapestries. Sewing needles signified restoration for Bourgeois, as she witnessed her mother’s constant efforts at conservation and repair; hence, a number of the artist’s large-scale sculptures take the form of needles, evoking both the psychological and physical symbolism of the device and its magic power. The spider, itself a weaver and repairer, is another highly charged figure that appears frequently in Bourgeois’s work. Other themes favored by Bourgeois include maternity, the couple, childhood, the body, sexuality, gender, and autobiography.

Born in Paris, Louise Bourgeois studied under Léger in the 1930s before moving to New York in 1938. Her first exhibition of sculptures was held in New York in 1949. Her 1982 solo exhibition at the Museum of Modern Art in New York was the museum’s first ever retrospective of a female artist, revealing a sculptor of immense distinction working with a complex variety of materials which included marble, bronze, latex, fabric and mirrors. In 2000, her vast installation, I Do, I Undo, I Redo, was the first commission in The Unilever Series for Tate Modern.

The exhibition is curated by Frances Morris, Head of Collections (International Art) Tate Modern, Marie-Laure Bernadac, Curator, Louvre and Jonas Storsve, Curator, Centre Pompidou, with assistance from Ann Coxon, Assistant Curator, Tate Modern. It is organised by Tate Modern in collaboration with the Centre Pompidou, Paris. The exhibition will tour to Centre Pompidou in Spring 2008, The Solomon R Guggenheim Museum in New York in Summer 2008,Los Angeles Museum of Contemporary Art in Autumn 2008 and the Hirshhorn Museum & Sculpture Garden, Washington D.C. in Spring 2009.

It will be accompanied by an ambitious publication providing an overview of Bourgeois, not only as an influential creator of sculpture, installation, drawing and printmaking but also as a writer, critic and diarist. It will include items from 39 contributors and unpublished material by Bourgeois. The catalogue will also feature an illustrated biography as well as a full chronology.


Louise Bourgeois, Couple IV, 1997, Fabric, leather, stainless steel and plastic, 20 x 65 x 30 1/2”, Wood and glass Victorian vitrine: 72 x 82 x 43”, Courtesy Cheim & Read, Galerie Karsten Greve, and Hauser & Wirth, Photo: Christopher Burke, © Louise Bourgeois.


Louise Bourgeois with Spider IV in 1996, Photo: Peter Bellamy.

A View of the Ephemera and Photographs of Louise Bourgeois' Life

Louise Bourgeois working on her mixed media sculpture entitled Confrontation in 1978, Photo: Inge Morath.

Louise Bourgeois in 2003, Photo: Nanda Lanfranco.


Guggenheim Museum
1071 Fifth Avenue
New York
A Life in Pictures:
Louise Bourgeois

June 27-September 12, 2008

For Louise Bourgeois, art and life are inextricably linked. Although her complex, allusive work attains universal significance, she has spoken of the autobiographical subtext that underpins her symbolic language. A Life in Pictures: Louise Bourgeois is an opportunity to trace the personal narratives that have informed the artist’s work for the past seven decades of her career. Born in Paris in 1911, Bourgeois grew up in provincial France, helping with the family’s tapestry restoration business before immigrating to New York in 1938. “Everything I do,” she has explained, “was inspired by my early life.” Viscerally present in her art is the psychic trauma of her mother’s early death, her father’s betrayal of the family with his 10-year affair with their live-in English tutor, and her overlapping roles of student, daughter, wife, mother and artist.

A Life in Pictures: Louise Bourgeois, an exhibition of photographs, diaries, and ephemera from the artist’s personal archive is unique to the Guggenheim’s presentation of the retrospective Louise Bourgeois organized by The Solomon R. Guggenheim Foundation in association with Tate Modern, London, and Centre Pompidou, Paris. A Life in Pictures: Louise Bourgeois is organized by Nancy Spector, Chief Curator of the Guggenheim Museum.

A Life in Pictures: Louise Bourgeois illuminates the artist’s rich life and career through a chronological display of over 75 photographs taken by her family and fellow artists and friends such as Brassaï, Peter Moore, Inge Morath, and Baird Jones. Snapshots of Bourgeois — in France as a child, in her studio among iconic works, at home at her famed Sunday salons, or in the company of great artists — are shown alongside identification cards and passports. The artist’s original diaries, which she has kept assiduously since 1923, offer poems, sketches and daily musings, and often indicate tensions between rage, fear of abandonment, and guilt she has suffered since childhood — tensions, however, that she has channeled and released through her art. Included in the presentation are 10 original invitations dating from 1945 to 1978, announcing some of Bourgeois’s New York exhibitions. These selections from the artist’s archive put into context the more than 150 works on view in the retrospective, such as Bourgeois’s early Femme Maison drawings and paintings of the 1940s, through the large-scale enclosed installations created in the 1990s known as Cells, to recent soft sculptures created from stitched fabric.


Louise Bourgeois in the studio of her apartment at 142 East 18th Street in New York, circa 1946, Photo: Louise Bourgeois Archive.

Louise Bourgeois, Germinal, 1967, Collection Barbara Lee, courtesy Cheim & Read, New York, Photograph Christopher Burke.

A Survey of Louise Bourgeois' Works that Have Been Collected in Boston

Louise Bourgeois, Arched Figure No. 1, 1997, Collection of Barbara Lee, Cambridge, Massachusetts, Courtesy Cheim & Read, New York, Photograph Christopher Burke.

Louse Bourgeois, Spider, 1996, Cast-bronze, Collection of Barbara Lee, Cambridge, Massachusetts

Louise Bourgeois, Cell (Hands and Mirror), 1995, Collection Barbara Lee, courtesy Cheim & Read, New York, Photograph Peter Bellamy.


Institute of Contemporary Art Boston
100 Northern Avenue
East Gallery
Bourgeois in Boston
March 26, 2007-March 2, 2008

The Institute of Contemporary Art/Boston presents a new exhibition of sculptures, prints, and drawings by Louise Bourgeois, one of todays most important and influential living artist. Bourgeois in Boston brings together works from area collections, both public and private, creating a uniquely located portrait of the artist. This long-term exhibition will include works spanning her entire career, presenting Bourgeois's varied styles and powerful themes.

"Bourgeois in Boston shows the depth and breadth of a body of work by one the leading artists of our time," says Jill Medvedow, Director of the Institute of Contemporary Art. "Her presence in Boston-area collections represents her considerable influence on contemporary art over several decades."

Bourgeois in Boston includes sculptures, prints, and drawings from area museums including the MIT List Visual Arts Center, the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, the Fogg Art Museum, and the Davis Museum and Cultural Center, as well as local private collections. The heart of the exhibition will be a substantial group of Bourgeois works owned by Boston philanthropic activist and ICA Trustee Barbara Lee. Lee is a great champion of women artists with a particular interest in sculpture and has collected work from the earliest part of Bourgeois's career through the late 1990s. The works demonstrate the artist's use of diverse materials — wood, marble, bronze, rubber — and illustrate the stages of Bourgeois' career as well as the common threads that link her work past and present.

Louise Bourgeois moved from Paris to New York with her husband Robert Goldwater in 1938, and she has made her home there ever since. Though she began as an engraver and painter, she turned to sculpture in the 1940s. Her first one-person exhibition was held at the Bertha Schaefer Gallery, New York, in 1945. Sixty years later, she continues to produce new work and break artistic ground, and is regarded as one of the 20th century's greatest artists. Bourgeois is known for her emotionally-charged sculptures and drawings, drawn from childhood memories and present-day dreams.

"Bourgeois's works are highly symbolic objects of desire, sexuality, beauty, and anxiety," says Emily Moore Brouillet, Assistant Curator at the ICA. "Her forms evoke past memories or emotions, but are ultimately open-ended."

The exhibition includes Untitled (1947-49), a painted wood piece from one of the artist's first bodies of work. As is typical of Bourgeois, the white carved column plays with abstraction and figuration; the pillar has an indentation where a person's navel might be, and the bulbous growths at the top might be interpreted as teeth, breasts, or facial features. Germinal (1967-92), a white marble piece with mysterious outgrowths, and Janus Fleuri, a hanging bronze from 1968, are similarly anthropomorphic, yet ambiguous. The more recent Cell (Hand and Mirror), (1995), a work from Bourgeois's Cell series of the late 1980s and 1990s, features exquisitely-carved marble hands set in the center of a room-like space made from found doors. A series of mirrors gives viewers multiple views of the cell's interior, allowing visual access to a space they can not physically enter.

Louise Bourgeois was born in 1911in Paris, where she studied at various art schools, including the Ecole du Louvre, Académie des Beaux-Arts, Académie Julian, and with Fernand Léger. She continued her studies in the United States at the Art Students League in New York. Bourgeois began to draw attention with her sculpture in the 1940s and was very active on the New York art scene, but it was not until the late 1970s that she achieved true fame. In 1982 the Museum of Modern Art organized a major retrospective exhibition entitled Louise Bourgeois: Retrospective.

Bourgeois has had recent exhibitions at Dia: Beacon, Beacon, New York; the Irish Museum of Modern Art, Dublin; and the Whitney Museum of American Art, New York. Her work is included in the collections of the Museum of Modern Art, New York; the Galleria degli Uffizi, Florence, Italy; and the Tate Gallery, London.

Brassai, Louise Bourgeois at the Académie de la Grande-Chaumiére, Paris, 1937, Photo: Louise Bourgeois Archive.