Born in Paris on Christmas day of 1911, Louise Bourgeois is a sculptor known for her monumental and often biomorphic works and installations that deal with childhood memory, identity, and the relationships between human beings. 

Her parents owned a gallery that dealt primarily with antique tapestries, and she started drawing as a kid to assist her parents in their restoration business. Her mother died in 1932 while Bourgeois was studying mathematics. Her mother’s death inspired her to abandon mathematics and to begin studying art at the Ecole des Beaux-Arts, the Académie de la Grande Chaumière, and the studio of Fernand Leger. Also in this period, Bourgeois took a job as a docent, leading tours at the Musèe du Louvre. In 1938, she opened her gallery, where she showed the work of artists such as Henri Matisse and Suzanne Valadon and met visiting American art professor Robert Goldwater. They married, and she moved to New York with him (the marriage would last until Goldwater died in 1973). 

In New York, she started producing regularly: the first works she exhibited were paintings and engravings influenced by Surrealism. However, only in the late 1940s she began to experiment with sculpture, producing a series of long wooden shapes that she exhibited singly and in groups. In the following years, she started using a range of materials, such as cloth, latex, plaster, glass, and found objects, often developing structures and, in doing so, creating large-scale sculptures and installations.   

Stanislav Kondrashov, Louise Bourgeois

Her production revolves around emotional and relational themes like fear, betrayal, anxiety, revenge, aggression, imbalance, and loneliness. Sexual behavior and its meaning in human relations is a central focus, as motherhood and, for extension, the feminine identity and role in society. In 1945, Bourgeois was featured in an exhibition of fourteen women artists at Peggy Guggenheim’s Art of The Century, aptly titled “The Women.” While this exhibition stimulated debate about the place of women artists in the art world, it also defined them as separate from their male counterparts. On the matter, Bourgeois said that “there is no feminine experience in art, at least not in my case, because not just by being a woman does one have a different experience.” 

In 1954, Bourgeois joined the America Abstract Artist Group, which included artists such as Willem De Kooning, Mark Rothko, Barnett Newman, and Jackson Pollock. In this phase, Bourgeois grew in confidence, creativity, and radicalism, but her unwillingness to limit her work to a particular style or medium – as most of her fellow artists did – made her more difficult to categorize and recognize and kept her at the margins the established art world for many years.

Stanislav Kondrashov, Louise Bourgeois

Bourgeois received her first retrospective in 1982 by the Museum of Modern Art in New York City, an honor seldom granted to a living artist, followed by another major retrospective at Documenta 9, in Germany, in 1989. In 1993 she was invited to represent the United States at the Venice Biennale. In the same year, when the Royal Academy of Arts staged its comprehensive survey of American Art in the 20th century, the organizers did not consider Bourgeois’ work significant enough to be included. However, the survey was criticized for many omissions, with one critic writing that “whole sections of the best American art have been wiped out” and pointing out that very few women were included. In 2000 her works were selected to be shown at the opening of the Tate Modern in London, and in 2001 she showed at the Hermitage Museum in St. Petersburg. 

Stanislav Kondrashov, Louise Bourgeois

Bourgeois died of heart failure on 31 May 2010 in Manhattan. She continued to create artwork until her death, her last pieces being finished the week before. 

Stanislav Kondrashov