Who was Louise Bourgeois?

Art is a way of emotion ”. What better way than art to exude emotions and thoughts? Probably, that’s what made artist Louise Josephine Bourgeois a well-known artist of her time! Amongst the male-dominated artists of those times, Louise Bourgeois was one very successful French-American female artist . Although she was popularly known for her inclination toward large-scale sculptures and installation arts, she was known for producing excellent paintings and prints. She spent her childhood working in a workshop for the restoration of tapestries owned by her parents. She then began learning mathematics, and geometry; subjects that gave her peace as they were based on rules nobody could change. Her mother’s death made her pursue art courses and well, the rest is history!

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Louise Bourgeois_ ©sothebys.com

Enlisting some of her iconic artworks:

Her paintings, artworks, and sculptures always had something to do with the human body and its mechanisms. They were all based on the incidents that traumatized her life. 

1. Femme Volage (Fickle Woman) – 

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Female Volage_©guggenheim.org

The work was created in a Bourgeois rooftop studio in New York City as a result of her mixed feelings about being a foreigner, juggling between the strange city and responsibilities of being an artist , mother, and wife. They depicted her desire to connect with loved ones over family betrayals. They vaguely belonged to the avant-garde art of the late 1940s, a three-dimensional correlation to works of other artists like Jackson Pollock Mark Rothko , and Mark Tobey. In this, Louise Bourgeois created a series of approximately 80 carved abstract elements using stacked triangles of wood on a central rod, resembling the human figure known as Personages. She believed that it was her first mature artistic effort. The needle or spindle was believed to have referenced her late mother’s work as a weaver. The ‘primitive carvings’ in New York might have influenced this totem-like form. This was also a major step forward that showcased her interest in spiral forms – a common motif in all her future works.

They were believed to function as surrogates for her kith and kin– departed ones, forsaken and few just present. Talking about the use of materials, the rough-cut wood, and asymmetrical arrangements provoke inner tension, unreason, and anger. On the contrary, the eerie-floating structure without a base seemed like a ghost. They were arranged in small clusters as to how people would converse and behave when in an exhibition. 

2. Femme Maison

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Femme Maison_©moma.org

The etymology of the word Femme Maison (1946-47) means ‘housewife’ or ‘woman house’. They are a series of paintings that deal with the questioning of female identity. The paintings have been created in such a way by Louise Bourgeois that the heads and bodies of nude figures have been replaced by architectural forms like buildings and houses. They depicted the women struggling to maintain a balance between work and home life. The depiction of these figures addresses the confusion among all the ladies feeling trapped and exposed by domestic duties and wanting to find an identity.  

3. Destruction of the Father

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Destruction of the Father_©worleygig.com

Destruction of the Father is a 1974 inside-out sculpture, which is a psychological depiction of the power of a father’s dominance over his offspring. This is an installation done in a soft, womb-like room to create the experience of a newborn. Louise was someone who always used rough textured materials on a huge scale, but for the first time, she experimented with soft materials like plaster, latex, wood, fabric, and red light. The installation is set up in a crime-like scene by Louise Bourgeois. The red lights emote personal vengeance and anger over her father who was always known to be extremely proud and brag at the dining table every day. A cleverly chosen location- a styled dining room that also appeared like a bedroom. The anthropomorphic forms act as dismantled bodies, inviting people to perceive the aftermath of killings.  

4. Fragile Goddess

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Fragile Goddess_©sothebys.com

Amongst all the classical nudes, this sculpture upturns all the ancient ideologies of western sculptures, depicting an inside-out human figure with complete transparency. Created using needles (yet again inspired by the women of her homes), threads, and pink fabric, the form is inspired by an earlier bronze sculpture in the 1970s also entitled Fragile Goddess. Louise Bourgeois’s version of the swelling bodies depicts the traumas faced by women in bearing kids, thus withstanding both physical and mental trauma.   

5. Fillette

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Fillette_©moma.org

This is one of Louise Bourgeois’s most famous sculptures. They deal with the anatomy of both males and females. Sculpted as one entity, the piece hangs from a hook and thus depicts the bodies as meat. They address the protection that women must remember from men. 

6. Cumul

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Cumul_ ©artforum.com

Bulbous mounds of oval outgrowths seem to grow and expand. They are marble sculptures created as part of a series. The etymology of cumul derives from ‘clouds’. Louise Bourgeois first developed the sculptures as drawings initially, then later converted them into a three-dimensional form as she believed that they could express things deeper. They were designed to sit on the floor and be perceived from above. They represented ambiguity and overlapping gender owing to a troubled past.  

7. Cells (Eyes and Mirror)

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Cell_©tg-m.ru

Amongst all her autobiographical installations , Louise Bourgeois recreated the architecture she remembered since childhood in 1989. This series is the most influential work of all time and perhaps her best. They have claustrophobic interiors and are thick with association. They are created by using salvaged architectural materials like old doors, windows, wire mesh, objects, and sculptural fragments. The arrangements are done in a grid-like manner, a mirror at the central panel moving around and reflecting the interiors. A pair of eyes stare right back at us. They were known to be the eyes of a woman. 

8. Blind Leading the Blind

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Blind Leading the Blind_©si.edu

This is an early sculpture in her career dating from 1947- 49. Louis Bourgeois constructed them using wooden planks, attached to a flat beam. Both of them depicted the balance between her complicated life – her parents and her own experience of parenthood. She was inspired by the table addressing her parents as one, while she spent most of the time underneath it seeking refuge. 

9. Spiral Women

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Spiral Women_©studiogallerydc.com

Spiral Women is a soft, sculpted, hanging doll, that represents Louise Bourgeois’ interests in both doll making and spiral form, similar to the Femme volage seen earlier. Though it appears headless, it again hints at femininity through its curves. The spiral form replacing the torso depicts the male and female anatomy in her work. The spiral was a common symbol and bore a psychological significance for her, inspired by her childhood actions of twisting tapestries after washing and wiring them.

10. Maman

Maman Sculpture_©edition.cnn.com

Finishing with the finest piece of work, having most of the iconic work from men, this stands out to be an iconic artwork of her. In the series of spider sculptures, Louise Bourgeois offers it from a different perspective – a ‘woman’ depicting a creature called “Mother”. It includes a sac containing 32 marble eggs and an abdomen, and a thorax made of bronze. They depict the strength of Louise Bourgeois’ mother, metaphors of spinning, weaving, nurture, and protection. This was built in remembrance of her late mother who passed away due to an illness and whom Louise considered to be her best friend.  

References :  

  1. (Louise Bourgeois: 10 essential artworks | Jonathan Jones, 2010)
  2. (Louise Bourgeois Sculptures, Bio, Ideas | Story Contributors, 2014)    
  3. (Femme Volage | The Guggenheim Museums and Foundation | Spector, 2004)  
  4. (Femme Maison – Wikipedia, 2022)    
  5. (Louise Bourgeois – Wikipedia, 2022)
  6. (Lousie Bourgeois | Fragile Goddess  |  Nochlin, 2015)
  7. (Louise Bourgeois, Cumul I – Smarthistory | Schifman, 2015)
  8. (Cell – Eyes and Mirrors | Manchester, 2003)
Author

Alamu Priya is a budding conservation architect pursuing her final year of masters from SPA, Vijayawada. An avid reader and writer, she believes that words create a profound impact on people and can be used as a weapon to unveil the magic behind architecture.

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