Celebrated sculptor, Louise Bourgeois (1911-2010) had her first real retrospective, at the Museum of Modern Art at the age of seventy-one. Bourgeois worked well into her nineties, leaving behind a body of work spanning over 70 years of her past and present self.
You might best, be familiar with her colossal bronze and steel Spider sculptures (odes to her mother) that loom high above your head on delicate, spindly legs. Or her Cell enclosures, those emotional retreats situated within various structures, housing collections of objects, tapestries and sculptural forms to evoke safe spaces for one’s anxieties and fears.
Bourgeois used art as a release for her feelings, once stating that “art is the guarantee of sanity.” Her creativity and her life merged evocatively, creatively cataloged within a substantive range of artistic mediums, thus propelling her into a rightful place as one of the most influential artists of the twentieth century.
Fittingly, a celebration of her life’s work, comes back to New York City, back to MoMA in the new exhibit, Louise Bourgeois: An Unfolding Portrait.
Here you will see the little-known aspects of Bourgeois’ artistic practices before she turned definitively to sculpture.
Curator Deborah Wye digs deeper into Bourgeois’ earlier years, juxtaposing rarely seen prints and illustrated books with thematic groupings of sculptures, drawings, and paintings, “exploring motifs of architecture, the body, and nature, as well as investigations of abstraction.”
The prize of the show sit’s in the museum’s Marron Atrium – Spider, one of the series of Cells that Bourgeois created over the last two decades of her career, and the only one of Bourgeois’ sixty-two Cells that brings together the spider and cell structure.
Nearly 15ft tall, the steel spider sculpture crouches over a Cell, the door of its caged barrier between the interior world of Bourgeois and viewer, left slightly ajar. A chair adorned with unraveling tapestry sits inside; worn, somewhat less vivid tapestry drapes sections of the cage lending to connotations of restoring, and repairing oneself through art.
Another gallery showcases paintings that unabashedly layout Bourgeois’ affinity for the opposite sex, as her depictions eroticize the body well into a time where youth imagines age does not follow.
You explore Bourgeois’ time as a printmaker, finding the Spider motif beginnings sketched out on paper before becoming featured heavily in her sculpture work. Even her frequent use of the spiral as a symbol for a twisting and strangling of emotion flows in and out of her early repertoire.
A romanticized version exists at Dia: Beacon. The Couple is an unfiltered, inherently, freer manner of speech.
In, An Unfolding Portrait, MoMA examines an earlier example of that imagery controlling the relationship of this talk in Spiral Woman.
This study is genuinely Louie’s last act, her vocabulary of imagery – A lifetime of abstracted emotion in context.
Louise Bourgeois: An Unfolding Portrait runs at MoMA September 24, 2017–January 28, 2018
Both Dia: Beacon & MASS MoCA house substantial sculpture work from Louise Bourgeois in their permanent collections.
*Article previously written for and featured in Azure Azure Magazine.