Category Archives: Women Artists

B is for Bourgeois – Women in Art Wednesdays


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

Spider at Dia


images-5ted-thai-louise-bourgeois-with-her-sculpture-femme-maison-at-the-museum-of-modern-art 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”?






Last week I begin blog series “Women in Art Wednesdays”.This isn’t Wednesday, but this is about the documentary Marina Abramovic: The Artist is Present which I viewed this past weekend.


I am not particularly well versed in performance art.  I was aware of Marina Abramovic and I read about the retrospective of her work at MOMA in 2010, By the time it was over, 750,000 people had come for the performance , sometimes even camping out on 53rd Street.  Why? for  the opportunity to see Ms Abramovic face to face. She sat in a plain wooden chair, gazed straight ahead into the eyes of the patron seated across from her.  Click HERE for a video of an example of this.

The documentary was recorded by Matthew Akers, who was given access to her home, her studio, even her bathtub! Showing her preparing in advance for the show at MOMA, the film is interspersed with videos of previous performance pieces going back 30+ years. You learn a little historical information about Ms. Arbramovic and her performances. You witness her reunion with Ulay, her lover and collaborator for 12 years (in quite a touching and sweet scene).

I discovered this woman who is known for mutilating and whipping herself in performance art is also quite funny!   She laments to an interviewer that no one asks her anymore “why is this art?”  She even discusses a performance piece with the magician David Blaine. But, alas, her gallerist talks her out of it by pointing out what Blaine does is illusion and what she does is real.

However, the strength of the documentary begins with seeing the daily challenges of what might at first glance seem simple. Ms. Abramovic is in her chair when MOMA opens each day (6 days a week), and sits unmoving until the museum closes. One by one people come and sit opposite her  – their faces full of emotion, often in tears.  As I viewed the documentary, I started feeling an emotional pull, witnessing something wonderful, something strange, something exciting and something rare.

As someone said, you had to be there. This documentary is the next best thing to that!

Witness Ulay’s surprise appearance at opening night here (it is not included in the documentary, but very touching.)

And, how did she sit for so long without going to the bathroom?  According to a piece in the NY Magazine – she held it!

Also – note there is nudity throughout this film.

For upcoming blogs on women artists:

B – think spiders

C – a working artist, she made me change the way I view the patterns on the street and sidewalks forever!

If you have an idea for a female artist, send me an email. I have a working list, but I’m willing to change it up!  Feel free to post a link to a female artist you like and admire too!







This is my inaugural blog of a new series. On the 4th of July, I posted images from American Women Artists (you can see it here). In researching this little blog, I found there just isn’t much information about women artists. So, I decided to go through the alphabet, letter at a time, posting something about the life and work of a different female artist on Wednesdays! I’m not going to critique them, just share their story!

I’m beginning with DIANE ARBUS!



Born Diane Nemerov in 1923 – her name is pronounced Dee-Ann.

Her family ran Russek’s Department Store on Fifth Avenue in New York.


Gorham_Building_from_north today

the building today

When her father, David Nemerov, retired, he pursued a career in painting.

Her younger sister, Renee Sparkia Brown, was a sculptor and designer. (Her first husband, Roy Sparkia,created the Empire State Building illuminated panels depicting the 7 wonders of the world, with the 8th wonder – the Empire State Building. These 5’ x 7’ crystal resin and stained glass panels were installed in the lobby in 1963.)

Her brother, Howard Nemerov, was a Pulitzer Prize winning poet and the United State Poet Laureate in 1988.

Obviously, this was a creative family. Diane studied panting in high school. At age 14 she fell in love with Allan Arbus (19 at the time). She lost interest in painting and said her only ambition was to be David’s wife.

“I hated painting and I quit right after high school because I was continually told how terrific I was. I had the sense that if I was so terrific at it, it wasn’t worth doing.”

They married when she was 18 and together pursued a career in photography, turning their bathroom in Manhatten into a part-time darkroom. Her father gave them work shooting fashion for Russek’s.

Allan was a military photographer in WWII. After the war, their photography business took off, shooting for magazines like  Vogue  and Harper’s Bazaar. It is said Allan shot the photographs and Diane came up with clever ideas and props.

But Diane wanted to be an artist, not a stylist. Allan wanted to be an actor, not a photographer. During this time, Diane suffered from several depressive episodes. They had two daughters, Doon (who later published two books with Richard Avendon) and Amy, who became a photographer.

Diane’s turning point came by taking a class at the NewSchool in New York with Lisette Model.

“I always thought of photography as a naughty thing to do – that was one of my favorite tings about it, and when I first did it, I felt very perverse.”

She began taking photographs of the seamier side of New York.

1959, the Arbuses separated. Also that year, Diane had her first magazine assignment for Esquire – that included photographs of a sideshow performer Jungle Creep.

In 1962 she changed to a 2 1/4 format camera, and her pictures became sharper and more detailed. She said she wanted “to see the difference between flesh and material, the densities of different kinds of things: air and water and shiny.”

She was known for having intense relationships with her subjects. In fact, she spent 10 years with Eddie Carmel, whom she called the Jewish giant, before she captured the photograph she had been looking for! Some of the circus performers she photographed appeared in her images for 10 years!


The Jewish Giant at Home with His Parents, Bronx 1970 ©Diane Arbus estate

The art-world began to see Arbus’ pictures as more than journalism. In 1967, 32 of her photographs were chosen by MOMA for an exhibition.


A Young Man in Curlers at Home on West 20th St. NYC 1967

“I remember going to New Documents (the show at MOMA) when I was in college and seeing a man spit at her work. People hadn’t seen an unambiguous picture of a man in curlers with long fingernails smoking a cigarette, and at the time it seem confrontational. Now, at this distance in time, it seem elegiac and empathetic rather than threatening”  Sandra Phillips, SFMOM’a Photographic historian

With her growing fame, people became a little wary of being photographed by someone that had been dubbed “the wizard of odds”.  At this time, Allan, who she remained close to, moved to Los Angeles to pursue acting full time.  Do you know his most famous role?

Allan and Diane

Allan and Diane

Allan as Dr. Sidney Freedman

Allan as Dr. Sidney Freedman

Yes, he played the psychiatrist on MASH!

To make money, Diane had a plan to sell limited editions of 10 of her photographs in a clear box that doubled as a frame, for $1,000 per set. Very ahead of its time, only four sets were sold, but one set was sold to the artist Jasper Johns and two sets to photographer Richard Avendon!  (one set recently sold for $553,000).

In 1971 she was chosen to represent the United States in the 1972 Venice  Biennale – the FIRST American photorapher to be so honored.

Unfortunately, in 1971 she was ovewhelmed by what she called “the blues”. On July 26, she took barbituates and slit her writes and was found in her West Village apartment two days later.


Identical Twins Rosell NJ 1967


Circus Performer

Some of my favorite quotes:

“Love involves a peculiar unfathomable combination of understanding and misunderstanding.”

“A photograph is a secret about a secret. The more it tells you the less you know.”

“The world can only be grasped by action, not by contemplation. The hand is the cutting edge of the mind.”

What do you think of Diane Arbus and her photographs?

What female artists beginning with the letter “A” would you have included?  I ask because I think I will continue this project for awhile!