Louise Bourgeois was born in Paris on Christmas Day, 1911. A sculptor, she is known for her spiders (hence the nickname Spiderwoman) and the founder of confessional art. What is confessional art? It is a term used to denote female artists that use biographical elements in their work.
Her family owned a gallery that dealt mostly in antique tapestries. When the designs had been worn through, Louise filled them in.
Her father was a philanderer, had an explosive temper, dominated the household and also had an extended affair with her English teacher and nanny. Her disdain of her father resonated in her work throughout her life.
In 1930, she began studying mathematics and geometry at the Sarbonne.
“I got peace of mind, only through the study of rules nobody could change.”
When her mother died in 1932, she decided to leave mathematics and began studying art. Her father did not approve and would not support her financially. She managed to continue studying by taking classes for free by translating for English speaking students. It was here that artist Fernand Leger told her she was a sculptor instead of a painter, probably changing her destiny. She continue to study at various art schools, and it is believed while enrolled at the Ecole des Beaux-Arts, she began using her father’s affairs for inspiration.
She briefly opened a print store next to the family tapestry workshop. It was there she met her husband Robert Goldwater, an art historian. He visited her store searching for Picasso prints, and they eventually married. Moving to New York in 1938, he was a professor at the New York University Institute of the Fine Arts while she attended the the Art Students League of New York.
She continued to work, but received very little attention even though she had a solo show in 1945. In 1954 she joined the American Abstract Artists Group that also included Barnet Newman and Al Reinhardt. She also befriended De Kooning, Pollock and Rothko. At this point, she made the transition from using junkyard scraps and driftwood to using marble, plaster and bronze – as well as non-traditional material such as latex and plaster.
In 1958, she and her husband moved into a house on West 22nd Street in Chelsea where she lived until her death in 2010.
Her work is known for being organic in form and became more sexually explicit. She dealt with themes that centered on the need for nuture and protection in a scarey world. This protection sometimes became a shelter or home.
She received her first retrospective in 1982 at MOMA. At this time she said her work was very autobiographical, reliving the trauma of discovering her father’s affair with her governess.
After her husband died in 1973, she began teaching at Columbia University and Cooper Union, She received honorary doctorates from both Yale and Pratt Institute (where she also taught).
In 1993 she was chosen to represent the United States at the Venice Biennale. In 2007, she had a retrospective at the Tate Modern in London, and the Centre Pompidou in Paris. This exhibit traveled to New York, Los Angeles and Washington DC. She was in four Whitney Biennials.
She was named Officer of the Orders of Arts and Letters by the French minister of culture in 1983. President Bill Clinton gave her the National Medial of Arts in 1997. She received the first lifetime achievement award from the International Sculpture Center in Washington DC.
Later in life, she used her art to speak for the LGBT community.
“Everyone should have the right to marry. To make a commitment to love someone forever is a beautiful thing.”
In 2011, her work SPIDER sold for $10.7 million – setting a new record, and the highest price ever paid for a woman!
She died of heart failure at the age of 98 in 2010. She finished her last pieces the week prior to her death.
“The spider is a repairer. If you bash into the web of a spider, she doesn’t get mad. She weaves and repairs it.”
“It is not so much where my motivation comes from but rather how it manages to survive.”
Spider at Dia
What do you think of Louis Bourgeois’ work?
Next post will be about a female artist with the name starting with a “C”. Hint: her work changed the way I look at the patterns in the roads and sidewalks forever.
Do you have a favorite female artist that starts with the letter “B”?
Do you have any requests for the letter “D” or “E”?