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Did you know that...?

These contents are part of a specific Didaktika project called “The Universe of Louise Bourgeois”. It sheds light on the life and oeuvre of one of the most influential contemporary artists, whose long-standing creativity is closely tied to her personal experiences. 

Here you will find information about recurring themes in Louise Bourgeois’s life and art: the human body, architecture, the importance of the psyche and emotional states, and personal memory.

These topics encourage the visitor to observe Bourgeois’s works and develop an understanding of the artist’s complex narrative.

Louise Bourgeois, in 1975, wearing her latex sculpture Avenza (19681969) which became part of Confrontation (1978)
Photo: Mark Setteducati. © The Easton Foundation / VEGAP, Madrid

The person

“My name is Louise Josephine Bourgeois. I was born on December 25, 1911, in Paris. All my work in the past fifty years, all my subjects, have found their inspiration in my childhood. My childhood has never lost its magic, it has never lost its mystery, and it has never lost its drama.”

Louise Bourgeois. Destruction of the father. Writings and Interviews, 1923-1997. Marie-Laure Bernadac and Hans-Ulrich Obrist. London, Violette Editions, 1998

“Art comes from a need to express – an idea or a concept – cutting, mutilation, self-mutilation. Pruning, control. How to prove to yourself. How to achieve saint-hood, health, star status, self-knowledge, The curative aspect of Art, usefulness . How to prove to yourself that you are lovable. Make people love you through your art.”

Louise Bourgeois. Diary note, 20 August 1993

ART21: Art in the 21st Century IDENTITY. 
© Art21 Inc. 2001, New York

 

Louise Bourgeois (b. 1911, Paris; d. 2010, New York) was an artist tormented by fears and insecurities which originated in her family environment. Through art, she sought not only professional but also personal recognition. She always had a sense of humor and knew how to use it intelligently to face the bittersweet challenges of life. Proof of this is found in her drawings, sculptures, installations, performances, and public appearances, in which the artist could bring to life difficult, complex themes in new ways. In spite of everything, she kept a youthful and active spirit throughout her long life, and her age was never an impediment to continue creating art. Did you know that when she was over 70, she began working on her Cells? Bourgeois’s work continues to influence artists of younger generations today.

Cell II, 1991 (detail)
Painted wood, marble, steel, glass and mirror
210.8 x 152.4 x 152.4 cm
Collection Carnegie Museum of Art, Pittsburgh
Photo: Peter Bellamy
© The Easton Foundation / VEGAP, Madrid

The Human Body

The human body frequently appears in the works of Louise Bourgeois. Often split apart and then put back together, the body is used as a metaphor for our memory, which treats our experiences in an equally fragmented way. The artist frequently uses parts of the body that are found in pairs—like arms, legs, ears, and breasts—to express our dependence on others as well as the duality and/or polarity of humans. Sometimes, the human body is represented by symbols, like spheres or spirals, portrayed as the original forms of our existence. Sexuality is another constant theme in her work, and acts as a catalyst for emotions, representing them through the body’s shape and functions.

1. What do the fragments of the body, presented in these works, wish to communicate?

2. If you had to create a self-portrait using one part of your body, what would you choose and why?

3. What is body language? Our gestures speak for us.

Cell (Choisy), 1990-93
Marble, metal and glass
306.1 x 170.2 x 241.3 cm
Collection Glenstone
Photo: Maximilian Geuter
© The Easton Foundation / VEGAP, Madrid

Architecture

Louise Bourgeois began to create her Cells when she was over 70. For this series, she constructed intimate architectural spaces in which movement was possible, and which were meant to be places of self-discovery, and spaces which adapted to her scale. (She was small and slight.) The Cells structures were organized by diverse architectural elements, including doors, windows, stairs, and wire meshes. These elements sometimes came from derelict buildings or Bourgeois’s own house or studio. The Cells both separate and connect the outside world from the inside, and contain strong symbolism.

The house, another frequent architectural element in the artist’s imagery, is simultaneously presented as a refuge and a jail, a place that offers us protection and also imprisons us. At times, women are also synonymous with houses in her work.

1. How would it feel to look inside the Cells?

2. For Bourgeois, marble was a therapeutic material. What qualities would you attribute to the materials that make up the Cells?

3. How does Bourgeois manage to connect the interior and exterior of her Cells?

Spider, 1997
Steel, tapestry, wood, glass, fabric, rubber, silver, gold and bone
449.6 x 665.5 x 518.2 cm
Collection The Easton Foundation
Photo: Maximilian Geuter © The Easton Foundation / VEGAP, Madrid

The importance of the phyche

Louise Bourgeois’s Cells contain a strong emotional and psychological charge. In them, fundamental feelings are represented, including love, hate, frustration, and admiration. This approach allows the artist to reflect on the often ambiguous and contradictory nature of human emotions. The Cells also deal with fear. For Bourgeois, fear is pain, and pain can be manifested in different ways; it can be physical, emotional, psychological, mental, or even intellectual. Through her work, she tried to confront pain and give form and meaning to guilt, frustration, and suffering. A well-educated woman, Bourgeois was interested in neurology and psychoanalysis.

1. What elements in her works relate to fear? Why? And to love or hate?

2. Outside the museum, there is another, larger sculpture of a spider, entitled Maman, 1999. What did you feel as you walked among its legs?

3. Mirrors are recurring elements in her Cells. How do you think the artist sees herself?

Red Room (Parents), 1994 (detail)
Wood, metal, rubber, fabric, marble, glass and mirror
247.7 x 426.7 x 424.2 cm
Private Collection, courtesy Hauser & Wirth
Photo: Maximilian Geuter
© The Easton Foundation / VEGAP, Madrid

Personal memory

Memory and autobiography are important components in Bourgeois’s Cells. Her work has an autobiographical approach that emphasizes the significance of her childhood, a period in which magic, mystery, and family drama intermingled in a crucial way in her life. She guarded her past through photographs, furniture, letters, clothing, etc., as well as diaries, in which she recorded every one of her daily actions, emotions, and observations. She believed that nostalgia was unproductive, but, on the other hand, she also said, “I need my memories; they are my documents.”

1. For Bourgeois, clothing was an important way to activate memory. In what moments do you think the artist dressed in or had contact with the clothing presented in some of her works? 

2. What daily scenes could take place within the Cells

3. The artist said that you must tell your story and forget your story, and forget in order to forgive. What do you think?

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