Louise Bourgeois, 1911-2010

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Woman Category: ArtsWoman Tags: NYC Women and Sculptress

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    A French-American artist; known for her monumental abstract installations.

    Louise Joséphine Bourgeois was born in Paris, France, where her parents owned an antique tapestries gallery. After WWI, the family moved to Antony, a suburb of Paris, and opened a tapestry restoration atelier below their apartment. During her childhood, she assisted her parents with washing, sewing, mending, and painting the tapestries.
    At 19, Bourgeois enrolled at the Sorbonne, studying mathematics and geometry. Two years into her studies, her mother died, and she decided to change her career path and study art. She joined classes as an English translator so she would not need to pay, and began her formal training in institutes such as the École des Beaux-Arts, École du Louvre, and the Académie de la Grande Chaumière. To gain practical experience, she visited studios and learned various techniques. Eventually, she opened a print shop in Paris, where she met Robert Goldwater, an American visiting art professor, and in 1938, the couple married and moved to NYC.
    There, Bourgeois enrolled in the Art Students League of New York and began to create her art. During this period, her art reflected her difficulties in the new country and her struggle to enter the art scene of NYC. She used driftwood and junkyard scraps for her sculptures, as seen in the “Sleeping Figure,” which depicts a soldier who cannot confront the real world. In 1945, at the age of 34, Bourgeois had her first solo exhibition at the Bertha Schaefer Gallery in NYC, where she presented 12 of her paintings.
    In the 1950s, Bourgeois began experimenting with different materials, such as marble, bronze, and plaster, exploring feelings of vulnerability, fear, and loss of control. She joined the American Abstract Artists Group, and her work was displayed alongside leading artists such as Jackson Pollock, Willem de Kooning, and Mark Rothko. In the following decade, she explored relationships, and her creations became more sexual. In her 60s, Bourgeois became a known figure in the art world and started teaching in various institutes, including the New York Studio School of Drawing, Painting, and Sculpture, the Brooklyn College, and the School of Visual Arts in NYC. She also taught in public schools in Long Island and established the “Sunday, bloody Sundays” club in her apartment, in which she hosted young artists and gave them critique – hence the name of the club.
    At the age of 59, a few years after her husband died, Bourgeois moved to a big studio in Brooklyn, which allowed her to create her famous large-scale installations, such as her famous monumental marble and steel spider. She had her first retrospective in 1982 at the MoMA, followed by two decades of large exhibitions at the finest art museums in the world, including the State Hermitage Museum in St. Petersburg, Centre Pompidou in Paris, and the Tate Modern Museum in London.
    Throughout her life, Bourgeois’s art was biographical, echoing her experiences and feelings from childhood with her dominant and adulterer father and her sick mother to her difficulties as an immigrant and her emotions as a wife and mother. She also used her art to express her political views, creating numerous artworks promoting LGTBQ causes, such as the piece “I Do” for the Freedom to Marry organization in 2010. Bourgeois continued to create art until the week before she died, at the age of 98.

    “Art is a guarantee of sanity…”

    “Art is a guarantee of sanity…”


    More Interesting Anecdotes:

    • She was named after her father, Louis.
    • As an art student, she worked as a tour guide at the Louvre Museum.
    • She had three sons, one of them was adopted.
    • She is featured as one of the apostles in Mary Beth Edelson’s installation “Some Living American Women Artists / Last Supper” (1972).
    • The documentary “Louise Bourgeois: The Spider, The Mistress, and the Tangerine” follows her life and work.
    • Her house and studio in Chelsea, NYC, has turned into a museum of her life and work.
    • She became an American citizen in 1951.
    • Her first public sculpture, “Facets of the Sun,” was installed outside of a federal building in Manchester, New Hampshire, in 1978.
    • Though many of her artwork depict feminine subjects, she rejected the notion that her art is feminist, referring to it as “pre-gender.”
    • Her outdoor statues can be seen in Chicago, NYC, Washington, DC, and more.
  • More About Her Legacy

    * Named Officer of the Order of Arts and Letters by the French minister of culture (1983)
    * Elected into National Academy of Design (1990)
    * Lifetime Achievement in Contemporary Sculpture Award (1991)
    * The National Medal of Arts (1997)
    * Golden Lion at the Venice Biennale (1999)
    * National Order of the Legion of Honour (2008)
    * Honored by the National Women's Hall of Fame (2009)

  • Watch and Learn More

  • One of Her Landmarks

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  • Woman Tags: NYC Women, Sculptress

    Louise Bourgeois - Peels a Tangerine

    After digging deep into our ZCZ archive we pulled out this gem of a piece of film, Louise Bourgeois talking about and demonstrating the party trick her father used to perform at the dinner table.

  • Photo credit - Shutterstock

  • Citations and Additional References:
    The Easton Foundation website.
    The MoMA website.