1911 - 2010
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 twenty-six, she met Robert Goldwater, a thirty-two 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 has spanned almost seventy 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.
© Christopher Felver / CORBIS
Born in Paris, France, 25 December 1911
Died in New York, New York, 31 May 2010
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