Louise Bourgeois Artworks
New York, New York, USA
Progression of Art
This series dealt with the dramatic changes in Bourgeois's private life in the early 1940s: marriage and domesticity, living in a foreign country, and mothering three children. Each drawing or painting in the series depicts a nude female figure whose head has been replaced by architectural forms that resemble houses. Bourgeois 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.
The Blind Leading the Blind
The Blind Leading the Blind, constructed from pointed wooden planks attached to a flat beam, is an early sculpture in which Bourgeois used abstract forms to express personal feelings about her parents. The artist likens this piece to a table under which she spent time watching her parents' legs move across the room. Moreover, she recalls this memory as an unpleasant one, as she felt alienated from her parents and sought refuge under furniture.
Painted wood - Courtesy Cheim & Read, Galerie Karsten Greve, and Hauser & Wirth
Femme Volage (Fickle Woman)
Femme Volage is part of Bourgeois's 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. Each piece 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 the past. Femme Volage is a fractured piece 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.
Painted wood and stainless steel - Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York
Forêt (Night Garden)
This work evolved from Bourgeois's Personnages, but whereas the earlier works were rigid and singular, Forêt shows what Bourgeois referred to as a "softening" in her work stemming "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." These less severe, often bulbous and increasingly biomorphic shapes would come to define her work and indicate the enduring influence Surrealism had upon her. In Forêt, unlike in Personnages, the wooden forms are placed together on a single base and suggest human figures or even plant forms huddled together. The artist leaves it to the viewer's imagination to decide if one is being excluded from this group, or if these are figures banding together for protection and intimacy.
Painted wood - The National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C.
Soft Landscape I
In the 1960s, Bourgeois shifted from working with wood to other materials such as plaster, cement, aluminum, and latex. In 1967, she created The Landscape series, which consisted of amorphous shapes rather than the stiff, upright forms of the previous decade. Soft Landscape I was made by pouring caramel-colored resin over biomorphic forms that resemble a landscape. Indeed, Bourgeois described the bubbling and sprouting figures in this series as inspired both by the human body and by landscape, saying that the "body could be considered from a topological point of view, a landscape with mounds and valleys and caves and holes, so it seems rather evident . . . that our body is a figuration that appears in Mother Earth." Other pieces in the series play with the disruption of the soft/hard binary. In the End of Softness (1967), for example, gentle biomorphic forms are made of bronze.
Plastic - Courtesy Cheim & Read, Galerie Karsten Greve and Hauser & Wirth
This is one of Bourgeois's most famous works. The piece showcases her use of biomorphic imagery as well as her experiments with and distortions of both male and female anatomy, often to the point that they become indistinguishable. Here, the testicles can also be read as breasts and the erect penis can be seen as a neck. The bizarre juxtaposition of the title, which means little girl in English, and the priapism of the work suggests a girl metamorphosed into that which threatens her. In one version, the piece hangs from a hook and thus references castration; in the second version, the piece is being carried. Bourgeois was photographed doing the latter in a famous photograph of her by Robert Mapplethorpe (1982).
Latex over plaster - The Museum of Modern Art, New York
The Destruction of the Father
This was Bourgeois's first installation piece at a time when installation art was in its infancy and was being used by feminists such as Judy Chicago. The work was also Bourgeois's first to explicitly reveal her anger over her father's infidelity, which was an underlying motivation for much of her work. Relying on the soft forms of her Landscape series and her often explicit body imagery, the work reenacts a childhood fantasy wherein she takes revenge on her father, who always gloated and bragged at the dinner table. A life-size dining table in a cave or womb-like space is covered with flesh-colored anthropomorphic forms that appear like dismembered body parts as well as actual joints of lamb, which underscore implied violence. The scene is bathed in a soft red light that symbolizes anger, death, and blood, inviting the viewer to witness the aftermath of the killing.
Plaster, latex, wood, fabric
The spider first appears in Bourgeois's work in the 1940s, and had explicit, positive associations for the artist, who saw the spider as a symbol of her mother. Bourgeois is explicit about this connection: "The Spider is an ode to my mother. She was my best friend. Like a spider, my mother was a weaver. . . 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." Bourgeois made spiders in a wide variety of media and ranging in size from a four-inch brooch to Maman, a sculpture over 30-foot-tall, which includes a sack containing 17 gray and white marble eggs, and is so large that it can only be installed outdoors. Though the earliest examples of spiders in Bourgeois's work are found in two drawings from 1947, she focused on the theme most consistently in the 1990s, at the end of her life, when she was no doubt consumed with memories of her mother and her childhood.
Bronze, stainless steel, marble
Spiral Woman, a hanging doll, showcases Bourgeois's longstanding interest in both dollmaking and the spiral form, as seen in the much earlier Femme Volage (1951). Like Hans Bellmer's poupées, the figures in the Spiral Woman series offer distorted, Surrealist-inspired visions of the human body. The 2003 version pictured here is headless with feminine curves, but its spiral form connotes a masculine form, underscoring the overlap of male and female anatomy in her work. As with so much of Bourgeois's oeuvre, the spiral had autobiographical significance for her, as she stated in the following: "It is a twist. As a child, after washing tapestries in the river, I would turn and twist and wring them. . . Later I would dream of my father's mistress. I would do it in my dreams by wringing her neck. The spiral - I love the spiral - represents control and freedom."
Fabric - Cheim & Read