It has been two years since the death of Louise Bourgeois, and her substantial sculptural legacy has yet to be brought into focus. Her images of the body–grotesque, sexual, poignant, witty–had a profound effect on a generation of artists who learned much from Bourgeois’s explorations of the psychic ramifications of human anatomy.
Ms. Bourgeois’s sculptures covered a virtuosic range of styles in stone, wood, steel, fabric, and installations of found objects. Her repeated themes centered on the frailty of the body and its need for shelter in an unpredictable and threatening world.
A 1982 retrospective at the Museum of Modern Art in New York solidified her reputation and brought the artist, then in her early 70s, the critical and popular acclaim that had eluded her. The catalogue photo for this exhibit, taken by Robert Mapplethorpe, shows Bourgeois holding her unsettling “Filette,” a large latex phallus. In the catalog itself, however, the picture was cropped to show only the artist’s face, a telling alteration of her image even as she was being honored. In an art world where women had been ignored or marginalized, Bourgeois became a totemic figure: a powerful woman artist, possessed of daunting technical skill, who was not afraid to approach taboo themes.
Much has been written by the artist about her childhood in France, and her father’s long term affair with her governess. Bourgeois mined childhood terrors and uncertainties in her long lifetime of making art. Her reputation grew stronger in the ’90s, with its artistic culture of sexuality, vulnerability and mortality. She has come to represent an entire era of late-twentieth century art which deals realistically with a symbolic body–art which is “about” rather than “of” the human figure.
Information courtesy New York Times