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 Louise Bourgeois  (1911 - 2010)

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About: Louise Bourgeois


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Lived/Active: New York / France      Known for: grouped wood shape sculpture, installation

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BIOGRAPHY for Louise Bourgeois
1911 (Paris, France)
2010 (New York City)

New York / France

Self portrait - Self-portrait
© Licensed by VAGA, New York, NY See Details

Often Known For
grouped wood shape sculpture, installation

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Abstract Expressionism
Women Artists
This biography from the Archives of AskART:
A prolific artist, Louise Bourgeois created an immense body of work including prints, drawings, paintings and sculpture, the latter being the medium that brought her international attention.  In fact, she was one of the first installation artists.  She is also classified as an Abstract Expressionist because of her early activity in New York City.

Recognition came somewhat late in her life because she spent many years committed to domestic life of raising children and maintaining a home for them and her husband.

She was born in France three years before the beginning of World War I, and her early childhood was unsettled because she and her mother traveled about to follow her father in the military.  After the war, her parents worked in a tapestry factory, and much of the family conversation concerned hard work and technique and style. She attended school at the Lycee Fenelon in Paris and majored in philosophy and then attended the Sorbonne.  Her mother died when Louise was eight years old, and she was so grief stricken that she found refuge in the subject of geometry, which was logical, predictable, and systematic and provided a world of order for her.

She studied art with post-cubist Ozenfant and Leger and lived the life of the Bohemian on the Left Bank of Paris while commuting from her home.  At the Grande Chaumiere, the workshop of generations of art students, she had the honorary job as overseer of the models, all prostitutes whom she admired as fearless and amazingly modest and clean.

In 1937, she became a guide at the Louvre, and in 1938, she married Robert Goldwater, American art historian to whom she was married until his death in 1973. They raised three sons in New York City, and she loved nurturing children.

Her first exhibition, an innovative assemblage of black forms symbolic of human beings and the unity of the family, was in 1949, and other wood groups followed suggesting all sorts of topics on the human condition including abused women, sex, love and anxiety. Her techniques include carving, welding, casting and assemblage.

In 1977, she earned an honorary doctorate from Yale University, and in May, 1999, she was chosen one of the century's top twenty-five most influential artists in the west by ARTNews magazine for the great impact her work has had on other artists in the exploration of "human forms, relationships, and language."

For the May 2000 inauguration of the Tate Gallery of Modern Art in London, Bourgeois was commissioned to do a large-scale work to occupy the 500 foot long Turbine Hall.

Among her most famous works are a series of giant spiders presented as symbols of the mother, entitled Maman, with one standing more than 30 feet (nine meters) high outside the National Gallery of Canada.

Of her sculpture, she wrote: "my work grows from the duel between the isolated individual and the shared awareness of the group." (Herskovic, 46)

Sources include:
Charlotte Rubinstein, American Women Artists
Marika Herskovic, Editor, American Abstract Expressionists of the 1950s, An Illustrated Survey

Added note:
After suffering a heart attack on Saturday, May 29, 2010, Louise Bourgeois passed away on Monday, May 31, 2010 at Beth Israel Hospital in New York City.  She was 98 years old.

Biography from Levis Fine Art:
While Louise Bourgeois’ childhood was tumultuous, moving country to country while her father served in the military, her artistic studies tremendously benefited from this experience. She was primarily raised in Paris and as a result of good fortune she studied post-cubist art with Amedee Ozenfant and Ferdinand Leger in the early 1930’s. In spite of her artistic career not taking hold until after her move to New York City, marriage and the raising of her children, she is considered one of the first female modernists. Although she has created a prolific body of work including paintings, drawings, and prints, it was sculpture which gave her the most promising recognition. Her work expresses the juxtaposition between simplicity and complexity. Bourgeois works through her medium developing and exploring the human form: its relationship and its language.

From the New York School Abstract Expressionists: Artists Choice by Artists catalogue (2000), Bourgeois said the following: “I think a work is 'finished' when I have nothing to eliminate. I make constructions which are usually vertical; when I start them, they are full of colors and complicated in form. Every one of the complications goes and the color becomes uniform and finally they become completely white and simple. Yet I am disgusted by simplicity. So I look for a larger form and another work- which goes through the same process of elimination.” It is precisely this simplistic form which envelopes Bourgeois’ work while also expressing and wrestling with more complicated issues.

Bourgeois’ works are in numerous museums around the world including the Albright-Knox Gallery, San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, Dallas Museum of Art, Hisrchorn Museum and Sculpture Garden and the Whitney Museum of American Art.

© 2008 Levis Fine Art, Inc.

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