Sculptor Louise Bourgeois

This video is on Louise Bourgeois and her work.

By Paul Stuart:

Sculptor Louise Bourgeois: A year of events celebrating her life and work

14 January 2009

On 25 December the artist Louise Bourgeois celebrated her 97th birthday. During her lifetime Bourgeois has produced a significant body of work in a personal visual language, which, nonetheless, has been fundamentally shaped by the tumultuous events of the 20th century.

This year has seen renewed interest in Bourgeois and her art. New York’s Guggenheim Museum, London’s Tate Modern and the Centre Pompidou in Paris hosted a comprehensive exhibition of her work—the first major retrospective since the early 1980s, followed by the release of a new biographical documentary.

Bourgeois’s most important work is dominated by images of crippling fear, the tortured, ghosts of the dead, somber darkness, paralyzing mental illness—all representing attempts to explore the source of these emotions and find normality under extreme conditions. Most commentaries, including the exhibition catalogue, tend to link Bourgeois’s work merely to her introspective nature or personal psychological traumas. Few treat seriously the impact and influence on the artist of objective historical and social conditions and the intellectual climate they generate.

Bourgeois was born in Paris in 1911 and spent her childhood in a large household partly used for the family business of restoring antique tapestries. Her mother taught her drawing, the use of color and a vast array of tapestry styles. Bourgeois describes socialism and anti-clericalism as a part of family life. Her mother’s heroes included the brilliant Marxist Rosa Luxemburg [see also here] and anarchist Louise Michel (a participant in the Paris Commune) and her father and grandfather were sympathizers of the anarchist thinker Pierre-Joseph Proudhon.

The pre-World War I idyll that Bourgeois describes as the font of much of her work was shattered in the first week of hostilities, following the death of her uncle who had enlisted in the French army. Her father, himself twice wounded, never recovered from this loss. One of Bourgeois’s earliest memories is of traveling as a very small child with her mother to different military hospitals and seeing “whole trains filled with people wounded at the front and [how] you would hear them in the night.”

The horrors of war continued to haunt Bourgeois. She describes entering a staff canteen beneath the Louvre museum in 1930 where she worked as a guide—a prestigious job obtained by her astonishing grasp of art history—to find “a hell of people with amputated limbs, people who have been wounded in the war. If you are wounded in France you are entitled to an official position. I’m talking seriously now. And I walk in and look and a leg is cut off or an arm is gone, and they are in that basement eating their lunch. And I had such revulsion, such revulsion.” (Louise Bourgeois: Destruction of the Father, Reconstruction of the Father: Writings and Interviews 1923-1997, edited and with texts by Marie-Laure Bernadac and Hans-Ulrich Obrist. Violette Editions: London, 2000, p.154.)

These traumatic experiences profoundly shaped both Bourgeois’s life and her visual language—limbless bodies and bodiless limbs are a constant presence in her work from the early “Femme Maison” series, through “Arch of Hysteria” (1993) and “Spiral Woman” (2003) to her later “Cell” series.

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