Acquired from the above by the present owner in 2007
Saint Louis, The Saint Louis Art Museum, Louise Bourgeois: The Personages, June - August 1994, p. 45, no. 7, illustrated (wooden original)
Paris, Galerie Karsten Greve, Group Show, September 1999 - January 2000 (edition no. 1/6)
Madrid, Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofía, Louise Bourgeois: Memory and Architecture, November 1999 - February 2000, n.p., no. 6, illustrated (wooden original)
New York, C&M Arts, Louise Bourgeois: The Personages, April - June 2001, n.p., no., 2, illustrated
New York, Kent Gallery, Sculpture: Figure in Motion, October - December 2001
Exh. Cat., Seoul, Kukje Gallery, Louise Bourgeois: The Personages, May - June 2012, p. 80, illustrated (edition no. unknown installed in Louise Bourgeois: The Personages,The Saint Louis Art Museum, Saint Louis)
Louise Bourgeois cited in: Exh. Cat., Tate Modern (and travelling), Louise Bourgeois, 2007-08, p. 208.
First conceived 46 years previously, Untitled is a serene and elegiac example of Louise Bourgeois’ anthropomorphic Personages. Comprising approximately 80 entirely unique wooden iterations created during the late 1940s and early 1950s, this body of work signalled the first great achievement of Bourgeois’ mature artistic practice. Installed together in clusters or in isolation – to echo the social interaction of human beings – these melancholic wooden totems comprised the substance of her breakthrough exhibitions at the Peridot Gallery, New York, in 1949 and 1950. Considered en masse the Personages comprise a response to psychological loss and mourning; embodying stand-ins for the family she left-behind, these works were fashioned following the artist’s emigration to the US from occupied France. Bourgeois’ psychological attachment to these ‘surrogates’ was such that she kept the carved wooden originals with her for the best part of her life, only casting them in earnest as bronze editions when she was well into her eightieth decade during the 1990s. Today many of these bronze editions, as well as a number of the wooden originals, occupy the collections of prestigious museums worldwide, whilst the series itself has witnessed many institutional exhibitions singularly devoted to the Personages' plaintive conceptual significance.
In conversation with the prevailing Modernism of the previous generation, Bourgeois’ totems evoke the influence of Constantin Brancusi’s Endless Column, echo the towering monumentality of Alberto Giacometti’s wraith-like forms, perpetuate Surrealism’s recourse to the subconscious, and even speak to the vertiginous sky-line of her newly adopted city. As much in reaction to these art historical benchmarks as inspired by them however, the Personages eschew the patriarchal machismo of the predominant artistic milieu. The present work, although roughly hewn and geometrically erect, is delicately composed; its form is vulnerably slight, precarious and fragile, appearing as though ready to topple over the meagre point upon which it balances. Furthermore, measuring just under 5 foot tall, this work is far from monumental; its height is umistakably human, even vulnerably so, and confronts the viewer as a relationally child-like physical presence. In this regard Untitled channels and reflects the dramatic psychological shifts in Bourgeois’ domestic situation during the 1940s. As expressed by the artist herself: “The monoliths are absolutely stiff – the stiffness of someone who’s afraid. The way one can say, ‘he’s scared stiff’. Immobilised with fear. Stuck. This was the entire period” (Louise Bourgeois cited in: Exh. Cat., London, Tate Modern (and travelling), Louise Bourgeois, 2007-08, p. 208).
Having uprooted her life in France and relocated to the US, the artist’s cultural displacement formed the very impetus behind these wooden sculptures. Each bestowed with a personality by dint of their shape and articulation, the Personages formed an extension of her family and an integral part of her private life in New York. Easily movable, they were installed in and around her family home, and came to function as everyday domestic objects. Executed between 1945 and throughout the first half of the 1950s, their forms gradually mutate and change. The rigidity of the earliest versions – including the present work – makes way for a softer articulation and the potential for mobility and movement via a stacking of segmented pieces. Herein, it can be argued that their production operated as a cathartic exercise through which she was able to work through and overcome fraught psychological emotion. As Bourgeois has herself stated: “And then suddenly there’s a kind of softening that came from the softness of my children and of my husband; that changed me a little. I got the nerve to look around me, to let go. Not to be so nervous. Not to be so tense” (Ibid.). In its rigidity and tenseness of form however, the present work hails from the earlier phase of the Personages' conceptually multifaceted dialogue and in its richly evocative form is a masterpiece of geometric simplicity and psychological complexity.
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