Artist Profiles: Louise Bourgeois
Louise Bourgeois was a contemporary sculptor who was born in France in 1911, and moved to New York city in 1938. She died in New York on May 31, 2010 at the age of 98. Much of her work was autobiographical in nature, stemming from a childhood which was difficult for her in some ways. Both of her parents were tapestry restorers, and the tools of their trade also made a psychological impact on her as a child (needles, bobbins, etc.). These sewing tools are one of the recurring motifs in her sculpture, as are many other forms which manifest her personal iconography.

She began as a painter, but started making sculpture in the 1940's. Because of her European beginnings, she was very familiar with the Surrealist ideas of the 1930's, and this influenced her work. In the 1940's in New York, she exhibited her work with that of artists of the New York School (Abstract Expressionists). Also, beginning in the mid-1960's in America, feminism became a personal and artistic influence.
Like many contemporary artists, particularly sculptors, her work has a wide range of both materials and appearance. Some of the materials she used were glass, wood, steel and marble, sometimes together in one piece. Her pieces tend to be rather large, often considered installations (a type of contemporary art which consists of a number of objects or forms (mainly three-dimensional, although sometimes with photographs or text), which together form the artwork, being usually large, often large enough to fill a sizeable gallery space). Her work evolved through the years, assuming varied forms, but the common thread was always the very personal nature of the work, and its metaphorical meanings for the artist.

Her work is incredibly striking, evocative, and even haunting; the materials and forms are at once fragile and strong, seductive and menacing. In some pieces, like Le Defi, a wooden glass case filled with glassware, the architectural structure, together with its delicate contents, seem to reflect psychological conditions, such as fragility and strength, together. Another work, the large The Nest, steel spiders, is simultaneously menacing and seductive, and evokes the duality of the female spider with its young - both its protective nature and its threat to potential intruders.
This is art which is not easily dismissed, or forgotten. Our assumptions or preconceptions that art's function is beauty, therapy, benevolence, solace, edification, etc. are rudely shaken. Bourgeois' work is powerful, and truly conveys her message visually. Even if we don't know her history or artistic iconography, or the feelings/ideas she was trying to express, we sense it physically ourselves. We know that, whatever it is, it is not soothing, not innocuous, not the everyday message; that art's job is not only to present beauty, but truth - even if disturbing. And, since the pieces are often large enough to walk around, or through, the experience or feeling is not easily forgotten. This is not easy for an artist to do - to make such a strong and lasting impression - and is one of the main functions of art. Like the bombast of Beethoven's symphonies, her work is irrefutable, eternal.

The following links have images of Bourgeois' work, and they also have excellent accompanying essays - please look at many the images of her work, since each piece is so different, to get a full sense of its range and power. And read the essays, too, to get a deeper sense of what her work is about.
Nancy Doyle
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Artist Profiles:

Christo &
Guggenheim MuseumLe Defi

Guggenheim Museum, Louise Bourgeois preface, click on link at end of essay to see her 2008 exhibition

Metropolitan MuseumEyes

San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, The Nest

Walker Art CenterThe Blind Leading the Blind

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