Louise Bourgeois At Large

By Peggy Roalf   Thursday October 26, 2017

Works by Louise Bourgeois (1911 Paris-2010 New York), an artist of international reknown, are currently on view at MoMA/New York, SFMOMA, and at MassMOCA, at last count. Much has been written about the motivations that propelled her aggressive and multivalent art works that range from massive bronze sculptures to small books stitched out of cloth.

Using the body as a primary form, Bourgeois explored the full range of the human condition, giving her fears a physical form in order to exorcise them. Memories, love and abandonment are the core of her complex body of work.

Her long-time friend and assistant, Gerry Gorovoy said in an interview for The Guardian, that she rebelled against the patriarchy in the art world through her work. “She thought, for example, that the surrealists made women the object of their work, whereas she was trying to make them the subject.” See the Robert Mappelthorpe portrait of Louise Bourgeois with the sculpture, Filette, here

Through the metaphor of the spider as a nurturing, female being, the artist explored patriarchy, motherhood and what it meant for women to be in the forefront of the art world. Currently on view at SFMOMA is an exhibition devoted to these works, begun in the mid 1990s, which for Bourgeois embodied an intricate and sometimes contradictory mix of psychological and biographical allusions. Partly a reference to her mother, partly to herself, spiders for her represented cleverness, industriousness, and protectiveness. Filling the museum’s sculpture gallery on Floor 5, Louise Bourgeois Spiders explores the captivating complexity of the artist’s conception of these elegant and fearsome creatures, with works sculpted in a range of materials and scales, from the intimate to the monumental. The exhibition continues through September 2016, with gallery tours on Thursdays and Saturdays. SFMOMA, 151 Third Street, San Francisco, CA Info


Primarily known as a sculptor, Louise Bourgeois worked across media as diverse as her mood swings, from plaster, wood and bronze to works on paper, including a vast and impressive practice in printmaking, and also artist books, many of which were stitched from the materials of her wedding trousseau. In Louise Bourgeous: An Unfolding Portrait, a selection of 263 prints out of the nearly 5,000 she created are on view, along with 23 sculptures and a group of illustrated books. The exhibition was organized by Deborah Wye, the museum’s former curator of prints and illustrated books, who also mounted the artist’s first retrospective in 1982 at age seventy. The show was not only the artist’s first museum exhibition, it was also MoMAs first solo show of a woman’s work.

The current show unfolds thematically and roughly chronologically, starting with the delicately angular black-and-white engravings from the mid-1940s, when she first moved to New York City with her husband, the art historian Robert Goldwater. Having devoted her early studies to mathematics, the logic and reliability of those formulas seem to shape the organization of the small sheets on which they were printed.

She abandoned printmaking when her attention went almost entirely to her work in sculpture, until the 1990s, when she no longer had the strength to handle the large-scale materials of her bronze works. From then on, her daily practice was almost exclusively devoted to printmaking. With the help of her assistant, Gerry Gorovoy, she created an extraordinary body of work, using soft ground etching on plates the size of her large studio table. Related sculptures, drawings, and paintings show that for Bourgeois there was no “rivalry” between the mediums. For her, she noted, “They say the same things in different ways.”

Louise Bourgeous: An Unfolding Portrait continues through January 28, 2018. The Museum of Modern Art, 11 West 53rd Street, NY, NY Info Explore the Complete Prints & Books of Louise Bourgeois here Find upcoming talks, gallery tours, and other programs related to the exhibition here [scroll down]

Photos by Peggy Roalf except the black-and-white at top: LouiseBourgeois inside Articulated Lair (1986) at the MoMA, New York. Photograph © The Easton Foundation / VEGAP, Madrid

Also see:

For B6: The Robert W. Wilson Building, MASS MoCA, in partnership with the Louise Bourgeois Trust, presents a group of the artist’s marble sculptures, some of which have never been seen previously in the United States. The works fluctuate between the whimsical and the grotesque, the threatening and the nurturing, highlighting Bourgeois’ investigations of the polarities of the emotions that were her subjects. The installation also speaks to the artist’s ease with both intimate pieces and works of monumental scale, with one sculpture weighing in at 15 tons. The design of the gallery that houses these works in the Robert W. Wilson Building was constructed specifically to hold the enormous weight. Louise Bourgeois at Mass MOCCA, here

A Look Inside the Louise Bourgeois House, Just How She Left It, the New York Times

Interview by Joan Acocella, The New Yorker, 2002


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