Louise Bourgeois

  • Kunstner, Visual artist
  • 25.12.1911–31.05.2010

The French-American artist Louise Bourgeois was recognised late in life for her bold treatment of major themes related to psychoanalysis including family relationships, sexuality and human emotions such as anxiety, jealousy, loneliness and grief. Her major international breakthrough occurred at the age of 71 in 1982 at the Museum of Modern Art in New York. She has been assigned the role of an outsider who is motivated only by her own traumatic childhood. The close relationship between her art and art history is largely overlooked in the interpretation of Bourgeois' art.

When Louise was eight years old, her mother caught the Spanish flu. She survived, but never fully recovered. In the following years, Louise took care of her mother. The convalescence was unsuccessful and her mother died when Louise was only 20 years old. Her mother's illness and early death marked Bourgeois' childhood and adolescence to a great extent and may be the reason why she deals with the themes of anxiety, the human body and love in her art. But these existential themes were not the only ones of interest to Bourgeois. She also had many sources of inspiration beyond her own life, such as anthropology, biology, medicine and architecture.

Cells, cages and totem poles

A recurring theme with Bourgeois is the relationship between the human condition and architecture. The house as a symbolic room becomes particularly evident in the series of installations called The Cells, from the 1990s. Each cell is like a theatre stage. The viewer stands outside and looks at everyday objects, clothes, furniture and sculptures. Cell VIII (1998), is an octagonal cage with a door opening. High up on the mesh wall sits a black spider. Dark blue textiles and a tapestry hang inside the cell. Several pieces of clothing are the artist's.

As early as the 1940s, Bourgeois was inspired by architecture. This is apparent in the Personages series. The first works in the series are made of wood and are reminiscent of totem poles. The series was also inspired by the skyscrapers of New York.

Feminist artist

She later created cage-like sculptures of latex and clay. The surfaces are unpolished and seem unfinished. They are reminiscent of something organic and bodily.

A sculpture from the same period was included in the famous exhibition Eccentric Abstraction in 1966. The exhibition laid the foundation for the style "Abject Art" and established Bourgeois as a feminist artist. "Abject Art" relates to aspects of the body that are considered impure or inappropriate for public display. Many feminist artists explored this style in response to the[AK1]  patriarchal society's contempt for and rejection of the female body.

In the 1970s Bourgeois declared herself a feminist and fought for the rights of female artists and their use of explicit sexual motifs. 

No outsider

As a female artist who gained recognition late in life, Bourgeois has been assigned the role of an outsider. The interpretations of her art often revolve around Bourgeois as person, and are largely isolated from art history and other narratives.

Bourgeois contributed herself to these interpretations with a photo essay with images from her childhood under the title Child Abuse for Artforum in 1982. Here she told about her English teacher, Sadie, who for many years was her father's mistress, which Bourgeois found difficult. The story of Child Abuse is often used to interpret her whole body of work.

The close and interesting relationship between Bourgeois' art and the history of 20th century art and knowledge is often overlooked when talking and writing about Bourgeois' art. One of her works that shows how her art is deeply rooted in collaboration and dialogue with others and the world at large, is her site-specific commission for the government agency Norwegian Scenic Routes.

In 2010 Bourgeois designed the witch burning memorial, The Damned, the Possessed and the Beloved together with Swiss architect Peter Zumthor and historian Liv Helene Willumsen. The monument is in memory of the victims of the witch trials in the 17th century in Vardø in Finnmark County. Finnmark is the county in Norway where the most alleged witches were sentenced to death. The monument is located at Steilneset, where 91 people were burned at the stake.


  • National Museum. Highlights. Art from 1945 to today. The National Museum of Art, Architecture and Design, 2015
  • Louise Bourgeois. To Unravel a Torment. Exhibition brochure. Voorlinden. The Netherlands. Fall 2019
  • https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Louise_Bourgeois
  • Louise Bourgeois, 2003, Phaidon Press 2003
  • John Ødegmar: Cultural Difference and Development in the Mirror of Witchcraft – The Cultural Policy of Display at Steilneset Memorial
  • Svein Aamold. Reidun Laura Andreassen and Liv Helene Willumsen (eds.): Steilneset Memorial: Art, Architecture, History https://www.idunn.no/ht/2015/04/reidun_laura_andreassen_og_liv_helene_willumsen_red_ste
  • Rune Blix Hagen: Forfølgelse av trollfolk i fortid og samtid (Persecution of sorcerers and witches in the past and present) https://www.idunn.no/kok/2012/01/forfoelgelse_av_trollfolk_i_fortid_og_samtid
  • Louise Bourgeois: Structures of Existence; The Cells https://www.guggenheim.org/exhibition/louise-bourgeois-structures-of-existence-the-cells
  • Robert Storr, Intimate Geometries: The Art and Life of Louise Bourgeois (New York: The Monacelli Press, 2016)
  • Francis Morris, Louise Bourgeois, (London: Tate Publishing, 2007)

Her parents were Joséphine Fauriaux and Louise Bourgeois. They restored and sold expensive medieval and renaissance tapestries and antiques. Bourgeois began early to help with the restoration of tapestries. She studied mathematics and geometry at the Sorbonne University in Paris. She then began studying art, including at the Académie de la Grande Chaumiere. In 1938 she married Robert Goldwater, a well-known American art historian. She moved to New York in 1938 and began creating sculptures in the 1940s.

1949: Debut exhibition Recent Work 1947-1949. Seven Standing Figures in Wood at the Peridot Gallery in New York.

1966: Bourgeois took part in Lucy Lippard's seminal exhibition Eccentric Abstraction at the Fischbach Gallery (including, among others, A. Eva Hesse, Bruce Nauman and Keith Sonnier).

From 1970, she became more engaged in feminist issues and she participated in demonstrations that focussed on feminist causes. In her exhibitions she expressed feminist views.

1973: Her husband Robert Goldwater died.

1974: The installation The Destruction of the Father shown for the first time in New York.

1974: Louise Bourgeois began teaching at several American universities.

71 years old: First woman to hold a retrospective exhibition at MoMA (Museum of Modern Art) in New York.

1993: Represented the United States at the Venice Biennale.

2000: At the opening of the Turbine Hall at the Tate Modern in London, she filled it with huge sculptures, one 18 metres tall.

2002: Bourgeois' exhibition at the Museum of Contemporary Art set an audience record

2008 and 2009: Large retrospective exhibition held at the Tate Modern in London, the Pompidou Centre in Paris, the Guggenheim Museum in New York, the Museum of Contemporary Art in Los Angeles and the Hirshhorn Museum in Washington.

2010: The Damned, the Possessed and the Beloved, witch burning memorial, raised at Vardø, Northern Norway.

25.12.1911 in Paris, Frankrike
31.05.2010 in New York, USA
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