posted by Caroline Picard

I’ve compiled a few different pieces about or by Bourgeois. The first is some of her writing. I think it’s an amazing reflection on the distinction between sculpture and drawing and what those mediums afford to the human psyche.

“Drawings have a featherlike quality. Sometimes you think of something and it is so light, so slight, that you don’t have time to make a note in your diary. Everything is fleeting, but your drawing will serve as a reminder; otherwise it would be forgotten. This applies sometimes to fears. You fear something, yet you hardly notice it–as if someone were walking there in the distance, or a cat were to jump out on the terrace. I talk about fears, but you could talk bout other subjects. For instance you could talk about the notion of pleasure. Something that you see over there gives you intense pleasure. Somebody of the opposite sex, right? Just a glance, but you cannot say that it doesn’t have an effect on you, because if you said that I would say you were not telling the truth. It can be very fleeting. It hits you for just a few seconds and then, if you are married or something, you think of something else. As President Carter said, “I’ve lusted after other women in my mind. But never carried it out.” He certainly gave himself away there. This is what I am talking about.

“If your emotions have a forbidden quality and arouse guilt and other negative feelings, how are you going to get rid of those feelings? They belong to your demon. You have to accept visually that some things you explain as good and somethings as not good. Good is a dirty word–a confusing word. Of course this opens up a whole moral field that is disgusting, really, when you talk about the visual. We should not be moral but we are, and all kinds of emotions that are very, very unwelcome creep in, and we have to deal with them. One of these emotions, which is completely useless and creeps in all the time, is guilt. We should live in a society where guilt does not exist, right? But it does exist. So whenever guilt comes in we want to get rid of it because guilt is extremely painful and we are not here to experience pain. We deal with it because we cannot do anything else, but it’s not wanted.

“Exorcism is necessary when the guilt has come in and you want to forget about it. You want to forget about certain experiences because they are forbidden. Sculpture needs so much physical involvement that you can rid yourself of demons through sculpting. Drawing doesn’t have that pretension. Drawing is just a little help.”

– From Louise Bourgeois, “Drawings and Observations”

The following article appeared in Frieze in 1999 by Stuart Morgan. You can read the entire article by going here.

And, if you want a more contemporary, personal reflection on the artist’s passing you can check out Kate Zambreno’s blog.

Louise Bourgeois

Serpentine Gallery, London, UK

Dilapidation, intricacy and danger: these predicaments and more are explored in Louise Bourgeois’ new work. Other elements are self-preservation and recklessness, as if extremes became her norm long ago. Consider a recent photo-graph, Spider IV (1996) which shows her struggling to escape the shadow of a large spider, wriggling like a mountaineer trying to scale an impossible precipice.

In most of Bourgeois’ work, lighting plays an important part. Visitors to this show, at the refurbished Serpentine Gallery, (a space so perfect it might have been designed for this exhibition and none other) could have lost their bearings in the semi-lit rooms. Forced to become part of the action – walking, watching, stopping, turning – their movements were often directed by the fabrics or hanging clothes which punctuated the spaces between the cell-like installations. ‘Cloth, bone, rubber and steel’, read a notice indicating a murky zone in which old dresses dangled – a little like a walk-in wardrobe. Bone? Look a little harder and the strange label appeared to be right – there are antlers, for example. Like backstage manoeuvres in a theatre, elements not in use were either hidden or jettisoned; theatricality was all that remained.

I also found this interview….you can read it in its entirety by going here.

A Conversation with Louise Bourgeois

Barbara Flug Colin I knocked on the door of Louise Bourgeois’ home in Manhattan on November 21, 1982. “Why are you here?” she asked, angry. “We had a date,” I said, putting my foot in.

I remember the room was dark, her clothes were dark. I remember my questions were overprepared. I was so scared I read them from the page, blocked out her answers my tape recorder caught, though not the sculpted face and my surprise as her whole demeanor reversed. She was interested, left the room, returned with champagne.

As a beginning art writer I had studied bodies of work chronologically then interviewed thirty painters, including Roy Lichtenstein, Robert Motherwell, Jack Tworkov… I wanted the answers to simple questions like why art lasts. I saw in some painters’ work a slow, pervasive projection of the biological body into the art object. Louise Bourgeois had once said: “For me, sculpture is the body. My body is my sculpture.” I wondered how this abstraction from the personal creates a personal identity.

Femme MaisonFemme Maison, 1946-47.
Oil and ink on linen
36″ x 14″

At the MoMA retrospective of Bourgeois’s work (November 6, 1982 – February 8, 1983) you could see an artistic genealogy. An early sketch hung beside the latest work — a juxtaposition like great-grandmother and great-grandchild, like an architect’s plan and then the building. Bourgeois’s imagery from the beginning was a self-split. The “Femme-Maison,” or “Woman House,” drawings from 1946-47 are houses instead of a head. The hips, vagina, legs are recognizable, sensuous.

“The vision of a little girl trapped and looking out at the world?” I used her own words as a question early in the interview. To which she answered: “Yes, the feeling of being trapped…and the theme of escape…On the one hand you are trapped by the past, and there is nothing you can do about it except running from it…the art comes from those unsatisfied desires.”

Even then, married to Robert Goldwater and with three children she was physically trapped in another way.

PillarPillar, 1949.
63.75″ x 12″ x 12″

Louise Bourgeois: “All the drawings on linen and the tinted–not painted — tinted self-portrait at that period [the group of “Femme-Maison” ca. 1946-47] were…sketches or notations for sculptures. I had three children, and I didn’t have a place, physically, to do the sculpture…In ’41 we moved to…”Stuyvesant Folly” on 18th Street. It had an immense mansard roof…I went up to the roof and did the sculpture because I had the space…There is a very significant evolution there where the retirement, the withdrawal, in the maison evolves. And some kind of strength. There’s no courage there. It’s just strength to go on. Then the presences appear.”

The “presences” are life-height polar-thin forms the features of which are abstracted to gesture and posture. They are a feeling, a presence. Some are called portraits of specific people, (“Portrait of C.Y.,” “Portrait of Jean- Louis”). Some are named more generically: “Dagger Child,” “Woman in the Shape of a Shuttle,” “Pillar,” “Pregnant Woman,” “Spoon Woman.”

Barbara Flug Colin: “Some were named for a state of mind, like ‘Persistent Antagonism’…?”

Bourgeois: “So I have moved from the maison to the occupants of the maison, namely my father and my mother and the mistress and the children.”

So, in the next phase of Louise Bourgeois’s work, “presences” interrelate on the same base: two on “Brother and Sister,” five on “Quarantania 1, 1947-53.” The five tall, painted wood bodies have different features. One, cut out in the lower body, holds an oval similar to the form in others cut out in the upper body. All attached to and by the wood base.