- Louise Bourgeois
- Needle Woman
- stamped with the artist's initials and numbered 1/6
- painted bronze
- 56 1/8 by 12 by 12 in. 142.6 by 30.5 by 30.5 cm.
Acquired by the present owner from the above in 2000
New York, Xavier Fourcade Gallery, Louise Bourgeois: Sculpture 1941-1953. Plus One New Piece, September - October 1979 (wood)
Chicago, The Renaissance Society at The University of Chicago, Louise Bourgeois: Femme Maison, May - June 1981, n.p. (text) (wood)
New York, The Museum of Modern Art; Houston, Contemporary Arts Museum; Chicago, Museum of Contemporary Art; and Akron, Akron Art Museum, Louise Bourgeois: Retrospective, November 1982 - January 1984, p. 55, pl. 42, illustrated (in installation at Peridot Gallery, New York, 1950) (wood)
Minneapolis, The Minneapolis Institute of Arts, Louise Bourgeois, December 1999 - January 2000 (ed. no. 3/6)
Salzburg, Max Gandolph Bibliothek, Positionen, July - August 2000 (edition number unknown)
Champaign, Illinois, Krannert Art Museum, University of Illinois; Madison, Wisconsin, Madison Art Center; and Aspen, Aspen Art Museum, Louise Bourgeois: The Early Work, May 2002 - February 2003, p. 10 (text) and p. 77, no. 22, illustrated in color (another example)
New York, Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, Louise Bourgeois: Retrospective, June - September 2008, illustrated, p. 5 (exhibition guide) (in installation at Peridot Gallery, New York, 1950) (wood)
Exh. Cat., Hannover, Kestner-Gesellschaft, Louise Bourgeois Sculptures and Installations, 1994, p. 177, illustrated (in installation at Peridot Gallery, New York, 1950) (wood)
Andrea Jahn, Louise Bourgeois: Subversionen Des Körpers, Germany, 1999, p. 24, illustrated (in installation at Peridot Gallery, New York, 1950) (wood)
Mignon Nixon, ed., Oxford Art Journal, Vol. 22, No. 2, 1999, p. 47, illustrated (in installation at Peridot Gallery, New York, 1950) (wood)
Exh. Cat., Humlebæk, Louisiana Museum of Modern Art, Louise Bourgeois: Life as Art, 2003, p. 72, illustrated (in installation at Peridot Gallery, New York, 1950) (wood)
Mignon Nixon, Fantastic Reality: Louise Bourgeois and a Story of Modern Art, Cambridge and London, 2005, p. 120, no. 4.1, illustrated (in installation at Peridot Gallery, New York, 1950) (wood)
Exh. Cat., London, Tate Modern (and traveling), Louise Bourgeois, 2007, p. 33, illustrated (in installation at Peridot Gallery, New York, 1950) (wood)
Exh. Cat., Jena, Städtische Museen Jena, Louise Bourgeois, 2010, p. 25, illustrated (edition number unknown)
Exh. Cat., Korea, Kukje Gallery, Louise Bourgeois: The Personages, 2012, pp. 33 and 35, illustrated (in installation at Peridot Gallery, New York, 1950) (wood)
Exh. Cat., Munich, Haus der Kunst (and traveling), Louise Bourgeois, Structures of Existence: The Cells, 2015, p. 24, illustrated (in installation at Peridot Gallery, New York, 1950) (wood)
Arguably the most visually austere and poignantly succinct of Bourgeois’ Personages, Needle Woman conveys a quiet stoicism that belies the precarious fragility of her slender form. Needle Woman stands alone, her elegantly slender figure bowed slightly as if silently yearning for connection. She balances gracefully on a single point, the fragility of her spindly, needlelike form and precarious pose counterbalanced by the fortitude of her bronze exterior. The austerity and simplicity of her lithe, spare figure finds emotional impact in its reductively abstract yet distinctly anthropomorphic presence. The absence of form makes Needle Woman into not only a surrogate for those missing, but also an intimate portrait of alienation and loss.
Needle Woman captures Bourgeois at a traumatic moment of transition. Having just uprooted her life in war torn France and relocated to the New York, Bourgeois’ cultural displacement formed the very impetus behind these wooden sculptures. This acute sense of loss that Bourgeois felt upon leaving her home in France was exacerbated by a loss of childhood naïveté, which was destroyed by her father’s repeated infidelity, by her mother’s chronic illness and ultimate death, and by the World Wars of the early Twentieth Century, which ravaged Europe during these years. Inspired by the foreign, modern skyline of New York City and desperate to overcome the homesickness that she felt for the people and places that she left behind in France, Bourgeois found catharsis in sculpture. She relished the concreteness of the three-dimensional medium and felt that the physical tangibility of sculpture was inseparable from emotional intensity whether the sensibility was one of tranquility or tension.
Needle Woman’s lithe figure resembles a sewing needle, a simple shape that conjured intimate memories from her childhood and of her mother. Bourgeois’ memory of her mother was informed by her mother’s labor as a seamstress for the Bourgeois family tapestry business and by her matriarchal role as caretaker of the household. For Bourgeois, the emotively laden act of sewing as a means to repair and mend became a cathartic metaphor for her artistic practice – a practice that incessantly followed a tripartite logic of creation, destruction, and reparation: “When I was growing up, all the women in my house were using needles. I’ve always had a fascination with the needle, the magic power of the needle. The needle is used to repair the damage. It’s claim to forgiveness. It is never aggressive, it’s not a pin.” (Louise Bourgeois cited in Robert Storr, Intimate Geometries: The Art and Life of Louise Bourgeois, London, 2016, p. 526) Bourgeois’ reluctance to part with the Personages and her eventual decision to canonize them in bronze reflects her inability to fully overcome and extricate herself from the psychological traumas of her youth.
Needle Woman invokes an encyclopedic host of influences and allusions and yet pursues a conceptual and visual direction that is all her own. Bourgeois’ Personages draw upon Surrealist biomorphism and ceremonial totems of primitive African and Oceanic tribes. Needle Woman is deeply evocative of the stark modernist forms of Brancusi’s Bird in Space and of the elongated figures of Giacommeti. Arriving in New York in the early 1940s with aspirations of becoming an artist, Bourgeois found herself in a world dominated by the New York School and Abstract Expressionism. Bourgeois’ highly introspective and rigorously reductive Needle Woman contrasted sharply with the extroverted, gestural, distinctly American machismo of Abstract Expressionist painting. The fragile elegance of Needle Woman’s form embodies the inherent tensions between comfort and danger, fragility and stability, reparation and destruction, connection and alienation, which underlie Bourgeois’ mythology as artist and storyteller.