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Louise Bourgeois

1911Paris, France | 2010New York, United States
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Louise Bourgeois — AWARE Women artists / Femmes artistes

© Photo: Jeremy Pollard

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— The Easton Foundation

Franco-American sculptor and visual artist.

Louise Bourgeois comes from a family of ancient tapestry restorers. After a year in mathematics at the Sorbonne, she had a change of heart and enrolled in the École des beaux-arts de Paris in 1933. Throughout the 1930s, she spent her time in Parisian academies and studios (Ranson, Julian, Colarossi, la Grande Chaumière) and studied under Roger Bissière, Marcel Gromaire, Othon Friesz, André Lhote, and especially Fernand Léger, who advised her to become a sculptor. Cassandre and Paul Colin were also among her teachers. Her rejection from the Surrealist group, especially at the hands of André Breton, had a profound impact on her, and paradoxically, so did the surrealist aesthetic, which would continue to inform her work. In 1938, after her marriage to American art historian Robert Goldwater, she relocated to the United States. In New York, she met the exiled surrealists, such as Miró or Yves Tanguy; she became friends with Nemesio Antúnez, Le Corbusier, Ruthven Todd, Marcel Duchamp. She would continue painting, but use also engraving, achieved many ink drawings and began sculpting. In the early 1950s, she moved on from wood to plaster then to latex, as well as white or black marble, and created shapes resembling seedlings or organs (Fée couturière, Guggenheim Museum, New York, 1963).

They are intimate explorations of metamorphic, often abstract shapes, sometimes amplified, as can be seen in works like Fillette, a pinkish phallus made out of latex and dangling from a hook (Museum of Modern Art [MoMA], New York, 1968). During the 1970s, she became interested in feminist movements, which dubbed her their “Foremother”; her work, increasingly militant, was highly informed by this companionship (No March, Storm King Art Center, Mountainville, New York, 1972). Following her Nature Studies from the 1980s and 1990s, a great number of her works display an explicitly autobiographical inspiration, including her father’s affair with her nanny, an early family trauma that would leave an important scar. The artist’s late work is equally characterised by a formal proliferation blurring the boundaries between installation and sculpture as by increasingly clear references to this harrowing childhood. The Extrême tension series (lead pencil and watercolour on paper, 2007), now part of the collections of the Centre Pompidou in Paris, bears the traces of the fragmentary perception of the body and the emotions and sufferings that belong to it.

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Émilie Bouvard

Translated from French by Toby Cayouette.

From the Dictionnaire universel des créatrices
© 2013 Des femmes – Antoinette Fouque
© Archives of Women Artists, Research and Exhibitions
Louise Bourgeois — AWARE Women artists / Femmes artistes

Louise Bourgeois, Janus Fleuri, 1968, bronze, gold patina, hanging piece, 25.7 x 31.8 x 21.3 cm, 10 1/8 x 12 1/2 x 8 3/8 in., Collection Centre Pompidou, © Photo: Christopher Burke, © The Easton Foundation, © ADAGP, Paris

Louise Bourgeois — AWARE Women artists / Femmes artistes

Louise Bourgeois, The Birth, 2007, gouache on paper, 29.5 x 22.9 cm, 11 5/8 x 9 in., Collection Centre Pompidou, © ADAGP, Paris

Louise Bourgeois — AWARE Women artists / Femmes artistes

Louise Bourgeois, Mama, 1999, bronze, marble, steel, 895 x 980 x 1.160 cm, Guggenheim Museum Bilbao, © Jean Bernard/Leemage, © ADAPG, Paris

Louise Bourgeois — AWARE Women artists / Femmes artistes

Louise Bourgeois, Altered States, 1992, gouache, ink and pencil on paper, 48.3 x 60.3 cm, 19 x 23 3/4 in., Collection Centre Pompidou, © Photo: Beth Phillips, © The Easton Foundation, © ADAGP, Paris

Louise Bourgeois — AWARE Women artists / Femmes artistes

Louise Bourgeois, Cumul I, 1969, marble, 56.8 x 127 x 121.9 cm, 22 3/8 x 50 x 48 in., Collection Centre Pompidou, © Photo: Peter Moore, © The Easton Foundation, © ADAGP, Paris

Louise Bourgeois — AWARE Women artists / Femmes artistes

Louise Bourgeois, Self-portrait, 1942, ink on graph paper, 27.9 x 21.6 cm, 11 x 8 1/2 in., Collection Centre Pompidou, © Photo: Zindman Fremont, © The Easton Foundation, © ADAGP, Paris

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