Sad To See You Leaving 2010: Louise Bourgeois

by George_East on December 30, 2010

Mostly known for her huge sculptures of spiders with egg sacs, Maman, Louise Bougeois was the last major artist with a connection to the hot bed of artistic innovation that was pre-war Paris. She moved to New York in 1938 and so was also immersed in the post-war New York scene which defined modern art from the 1940s to the 1970s.

Both worlds were almost exclusively male, often struttingly so. Across 7 decades and 2 continents Bourgeois produced work that was distinctively hers – informed by but not shaped by the series of isms that tumbled one after another into critical vogue. Much of her work dealt with the childhood trauma of discovering her father was having an affair. Her subject matter is sex, femaleness, fatherhood, trust, betrayal and psychoanalysis.

Her spider sculpture together with two monumental towers were the debut Turbine Hall installation at Tate Modern in 2000. Yet she was barely known outside of hardcore art circles until her exhibition at MOMA in New York in 1982, by which time she was already in her 70s.

Her career spanning retrospective at Tate Modern in 2007 introduced me to her work beyond the spider. Drawings, paintings, sculpture and installations from 1938-2007 were shown, over 200 works in total. Again and again Bougeois returns not just to the same themes but to the same images. A series of fabric sculptures of couples coupling shown through the eyes of a child – desexualised, trapped, perhaps even violent were particularly powerful. The exhibition has stayed with me ever since.

She is a huge loss.

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