Tuesday, January 10, 2017

1911-2010: Louise Bourgeois

Louise Bourgeois was one of the great sculptors of the 20th century because she produced a constant stream of highly influential innovations.

In the first place, Louise introduced a whole new purpose for sculpture: expression of the artist's internal emotions and psychological traumas. She created art to externalize, examine, and thus control her own emotions. Her work might be compared with the personal explorations of Frida Kahlo, who was her contemporary, but Louise transmuted her personal dramas into highly abstract symbols that stand on their own. Her theme was the human body, and its need for nurture and protection in a frightening world. She was the first sculptor to treat sexuality and relationships. Although playful and abstracted, much of Louise's early work is too explicit for treatment in a contemporary classroom.

In the second place, Louise was constantly experimenting with unusual materials. Starting with found bits of wood, she moved on to marble and bronze, but also resorted to plaster and rubber. She also created new forms, new shapes, and different arrangements of objects that were unprecedented in sculpture at that time.

Although she was born in Paris, Louise moved to New York when she was 27, and became a US citizen at the age of 46.

Background: Because Louise drew from her childhood for her themes, her background is especially important. She was born in Paris, the second of three children. She was named after her father, Louis. The family ran a tapestry shop in a fashionable section of Paris, and they also had a workshop in the country where they restored antique tapestries. During her childhood, Louise helped with the work.

Louise's mother ran the workshop, and Louise felt close to her. She is described as practical, affectionate, and long-suffering.

Louise came to hate her father. He dominated the household with his explosive temper, and he let Louise know that he would have preferred to have a son. He deplored her lack of skill in the field of tapestry, and treated her rudely.

Louise was particularly wounded by the 10-year affair he had with the family's English nanny, and the tensions that created within her family. When the affair was revealed, Louise attempted suicide. This situation instilled resentment and insecurity in Louise that later informed in art.

Louise was 21 when her mother died in 1932.

Louise Bourgeois at art school in France, 1937
Training: Louise attended an elite school in Paris, and then the Sorbonne, where she studied math and science.

She began her art education in 1935, studying at different art academies and studios in Paris until around 1938.

In 1938, Louise moved to New York, where she enrolled at the Art Students League.

Career: Louise began exhibiting in 1938, showing work in an annual salon in Paris. She also opened her own art gallery in a section of her father's tapestry showroom.

Before 1938 was over, she had married and moved to New York.

During the 1940s, Louise honed her art skills, while taking classes at the Art Students League. She also met all the important players in the New York art scene.

Louise began having solo shows in New York in the late 1940s and early 1950s. During this time she constructed upright totems from scraps and driftwood

In the mid 1950s she made a transition from wood to marble and bronze. Her themes were fear, vulnerability and loss of control.

In the 1960s Louise began experimenting with odd materials like plaster and rubber. She also traveled to Italy, where she learned to work in marble and bronze.

In the 1970s she taught at various institutions in New York and participated in several exhibits.

In 1982, Louise was the first woman to be given a retrospective at the Museum of Modern Art. She was 71 years old.

Private life: While Louise was running her own art gallery in 1938, she met art historian Robert Goldwater. They married moved to New York before the outbreak of the war. They adopted one son from France, then had two more sons of their own. Louise raised them while attending art school in New York.

As an art historian, Robert was well-connected in the art world, and he and Louise socialized with the most advanced artists and writers.

Louise became an American citizen in 1955.

In 1958, Louise and Robert moved into a house in the Chelsea district of Manhattan, where she lived for the rest of her life.

Louise was 62 when Robert died in 1973.

Louise was 98 when she died. Her last pieces were finished the week before.

My photos of Louise's work:

Black Flames, 1947-1949
Philadelphia / Jan's photo, 2010

During the 1940s and 1950s, Louise created a series of totemic sculptures called Personnages. These were thin, vertical forms of stone or wood which evoke the human body. The sculpture below is composed of 5 figures; at the center is a woman carrying packages, surrounded by several women, shaped like shuttles, a type of tool used in making tapestries.

Quarantania I, 1953
MoMA / Jan's photo, 2012

Nature Study #3, 1985
Williams College / Jan's photo, 2012

Décontractée, 1990
MoMA / Jan's photo, 2006
Décontractée means relaxed or casual.

Cell (Three White Marble Spheres), 1993
St. Louis / Jan's photo 2013

Torso, 1996
Dallas / Jan's photo, 2012

Spider, 1996
Kemper / Jan's photo

Spider, 1996
National Gallery / Jan's photo, 2006

Spider Couple, 2003
Gemeentemuseum / Jan's photo, 2015

Maman, 1999
National Gallery of Canada / Jan's photo, 2013

Eyes, 2001
Williams / Jan's photo, 2012

Setting for Eyes, 2001

Untitled, 2002
Dallas / Jan's photo, 2012

Could this be a pun on "pillar of the community"?

Detail of Untitled, 2002

Eye Benches I, II, 1997
Olympic Sculpture Park / Jan's Photo, 2007

Eye Bench in use
Jan's photo, 2007

Father and Son, 2006
Jan's photo, 2007

Father and Son, 2006
Olympic Sculpture Park / Jan's photo 2007

Father and Son, 2006
Olympic Sculpture Park / Jan's photo 2007

Father and Son, 2006
Steel, aluminum, bronze, water
Olympic Sculpture Park
Photo by Dan L. Smith, 2007

Father and Son, 2006
Steel, aluminum, bronze, water
Olympic Sculpture Park
Photo by Dan L. Smith, 2007

Internet grabs:

Louise said that the sculptures in the grouping below represent the people she left behind in France and missed when she came to New York City.

Personages, 1945-1955
Pompidou / Internet

Personages, 1960

Cumul I, 1969
white marble on wood base
Pompidou / Internet

Spider, 1997
steel, tapestry, wood, glass, fabric, rubber, silver, gold, and bone

The Last Climb, 2008
steel, glass, rubber, thread, and wood