Thursday, June 3, 2010
Louise Bourgeois: Farewell to the Spiderwoman
The world said goodbye to one of the most acclaimed “artist’s artists” on May 31, 2010. Louise Bourgeois was not a household name, but she did influence several generations of artists with her provocative and seemingly contradictory images. Since she lived to the ripe age of 98—working well into her 90s—it is no surprise that multiple generations have looked to her for inspiration. It is hard to imagine artists like Kiki Smith creating such mythical and symbolic works without Bourgeois as a forerunner.
Bourgeois was born in France to parents who worked as tapestry restorers. The mosaic of that household, with all its traumas and dysfunctionalities, was the endless well for her creativity. Her father was a charismatic philanderer who openly carried on an affair with the live-in governess. Though her mother tried to shield the children from the situation, she also acted as if the affair did not exist. The artist, therefore, somewhat loved and distained both parents.
By 1938 Louise had met and fallen in love with an American art historian. They married and she moved with him to the United States. During the next decade she became ensconced in the old boys club of the mid-century artworld. She studied with Stanley Hayter and several of the leading Surrealists at Hayter’s relocated Atelier 17 in New York City. Though Bourgeois denied any attachment to Surrealism, she was part of the influx of European Modernists who had converged on New York, transforming it to the art capital of the world. She had a rather successful career during this time—a period when many outstanding female artists, such as Lee Krasner, were still relegated to the backseat of the artworld bus.
During the next two decades Bourgeois seemed to disappear into obscurity. She continued working steadily as her art, quietly, changed the way women were perceived within art society. The questions she was asking and the ideas she explored were especially influential on the new generation of feminist artists.
Other marble sculptures mix the sexual characteristics of males and females. The artist never saw herself as a feminist, per se, though the evidence of her childhood experiences and relationships to her parents bleed through in these works. The rounded and organic forms are at once abstract compositions, but they can simultaneously be read as hybridized breast and phallic forms. They are inter-sexed works that allude to the physically complimentary nature of men and women. The red watercolor seen here, with a clearly male figure seemingly carrying a fetus within its womb, creates a similar effect.