The work of Louise Bourgeois (1911-2010) is viewed from a new perspective in an exhibition at MoMA, New York, this autumn. The artist is best known for her sculptures along with drawings and paintings, but she was also a talented printmaker and producer of illustrated books. Here, these mediums are the focus, bringing attention to a part of her practice that has previously remained less explored.
Bourgeois believed that moving between methods allowed her “to say the same things, but in different ways.” This highlights the fact that over her long career – she maintained a prolific output even in her nineties – certain themes have been consistently present. One such concern is the tension between emotion and structure. She sought to apply mathematical precision to messy emotions, articulating anger and pain through architectural imagery or abstract geometrics. The books and prints on display offer a continuation of this subject, along with others such as explorations of motherhood, love, solitude and sexuality.
By engaging with a particular aspect of this rich oeuvre from a wide temporal perspective, curator Deborah Wye allows interesting parallels to emerge. Investigating the very act of print making, for example, demonstrates the natural shifts and recourses that take place in the course of a working life spanning seven decades. Bourgeois first used a printing press in the 1940s, producing pieces from her home. She then turned to sculpture — but over 40 years later, she decided to re-build her original press, and by the 2000s she made prints every day. Likewise, despite being the daughter of tapestry restorers, she only returned to studies in fabric when she was in her eighties. At this point, she began to use nostalgic materials – her own clothes, and items from her wedding trousseau – to make books, and to experiment with tactility.
For those unable to make the journey to New York, MoMA has created a vast digital archive, encompassing over 5,600 items made by Bourgeois, with detailed curatorial notes on each one. This will be a valuable resource for future researchers and students, as well as providing insight on a great swathe of her art, the majority of which – despite the scale of this exhibition – is not otherwise publicly visible.
Louise Bourgeois: An Unfolding Portrait opens 24 September at MoMA, New York. Find out more: www.moma.org
1. Louise Bourgeois inside Articulated Lair, 1986.