Louise Bourgeois

Louise Bourgeois

Louise Bourgeois (Paris, 1911–New York, 2010) is one of the most influential artists of the past century. Though she worked in several mediums throughout her 70-year career—including installation, performance, drawing, painting, and printmaking—she is best known as a sculptor. Using the body as a primary form, Bourgeois explored the full range of human experience. For her, the creative process was a kind of exorcism: a way of reconstructing memories and emotions to free herself from their grasp. As she said, “The subject of pain is the business I am in. To give meaning and shape to frustration and suffering. What happens to my body has to be given a formal aspect. So you might say, pain is the ransom of formalism” (In “Self-Expression Is Sacred and Fatal: Statements,” in Christiane Meyer-Thoss. Louise Bourgeois: Designing for Free Fall, Ammann Verlag, Zurich 1992).

Although Bourgeois lived in New York from 1938 until her death, much of her inspiration was derived from her childhood. Raised in Paris and its suburbs, she was involved in her family’s tapestry restoration workshop from a young age. The effects of her father’s domineering behavior and the caregiving she provided her chronically ill mother led to pervasive feelings of guilt, betrayal, and abandonment—themes which form the core of her complex body of work. From intimate drawings to large-scale installations, created from a variety of materials including wood, plaster, marble, and bronze, Bourgeois expressed psychological states through a visual vocabulary of formal and symbolic equivalents. Her vast archive of writings, many produced during a long period of psychoanalysis, confirm the intensity and conflicting nature of her feelings.

Bourgeois was named Officer of the Order of Arts and Letters by the French minister of culture in 1983. Other honors include the Grand Prix National de Sculpture from the French government in 1991; the National Medal of Arts in 1997; and the French medal of Commander of the Legion of Honor in 2008. She represented the United States at the Venice Biennale in 1993, and in 1999 was awarded the Biennale’s Golden Lion for a living master of contemporary art. Bourgeois’s work has been the subject of several major traveling retrospectives, including those organized by the Museum of Modern Art, New York; Kunstverein, Frankfurt; Tate Modern, London; the State Hermitage Museum, St. Petersburg; Centre Pompidou, Paris; and Haus der Kunst, Munich.

Photo: Louise Bourgeois in her home on 20th Street in New York, 2004.

© The Easton Foundation/2022, ProLitteris, Zurich. Photo: Pouran Esrafily

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