Louise Bourgeois, The Architecture of Memory: Works from a Private Collection

Louise Bourgeois, The Architecture of Memory: Works from a Private Collection

L ouise Bourgeois is considered one of the most important artists of the last century, and her ground-breaking visual practice draws vividly upon childhood memories and complex psychological dynamics; indeed, her world of inner-turmoil is made universal and physical through her artistic practice. This October, Sotheby’s is delighted to present an extraordinarily complete group of works spanning the long, celebrated trajectory of Louise Bourgeois’s oeuvre.

Having emigrated to New York from Paris in 1938 with her husband, the American art historian Robert Goldwater, by the early 1950s Bourgeois occupied a crucial position within the front ranks of the advanced artists of her generation. The decade’s mid-point, however, ushered in a fallow period during which she withdrew from the artistic vanguard in New York.

Frequent sojourns to Paris in support of her husband’s career meant prolonged absences from the front line of a burgeoning art world, all of which coincided with an emotional crisis prompted by the unexpected death of her father. Having never fully resolved their fractured father-daughter relationship, Bourgeois spiraled into a deep depression with dizzying bouts of anxiety and self-doubt concerning her work. It was not until 1960 that new works began to come to light – works of an entirely new and novel vocabulary.

Of the sculptural works in this distinguished private collection, Life Flower I (conceived in 1960 and cast in 2010) is among Bourgeois’s most widely reproduced. A photograph of Bourgeois with the unfinished sculpture in her studio in 1960 is one of the most illustrated images of the artist, one that shows the magnificent scale and dimensionality of this seminal piece.

Louise Bourgeois in her studio with Life Flower I sculpture 1960
Louise Bourgeois in her studio with Life Flower I (in progress), circa 1960. © The Easton Foundation/VAGA at ARS, NY and DACS, London 2020.

Life Flower I builds upon the Surrealist sculpture of Bourgeois’ French antecedents, yet this work is pioneering in its portrayal of a uniquely organic form. Cast in bronze, the sculpture highlights Bourgeois’s career-long investigation into the themes of motherhood and reproduction, the flower thus becoming a succinct symbol for the transient cycle of life.

The two other sculptures in the collection, Fragile Goddess (2002) and Femme (1993), are seminal examples from the artist’s ‘Old Age’ production, and illuminate two distinctly maternal bodies, their bellies impregnated and breasts swollen. Together, the two works allude to a thematic juxtaposition central to Bourgeois oeuvre, that of hard versus soft. Indeed, the rigid, hard bronze surface of Femme is later translated to the soft, supple lines of Fragile Goddess a work that exemplifies Bourgeois’s great affinity for the medium of stitched fabric – an artistic media profoundly reminiscent of a childhood spent at her family’s tapestry repair workshop on the outskirts of Paris.

These three outstanding sculptures are complimented by two gouache works on paper from the very last decade of the artist’s career. The Feeding and The Birth, both executed in 2007, are perhaps the most explicit in their raw confrontation of the childbearing process. Taking root in her relationship with a mother whom she loved dearly and yet derided for her often antagonistic and calm rationalism in putting up with her husband’s indiscretions, Bourgeois’s struggle with the maternal position was heightened by her own difficult experience of motherhood.

"I need my memories. They are my documents. I keep watch over them…You have to differentiate between memories. Are you going to them or are they coming to you."

Translated into abstract form and metaphor in her 1960s works, by the final decade of her life these issues were laid bare for all to see. The Feeding and The Birth are thus bold images alluding to the female body’s innate ability to withstand both physical and emotional trauma.

Contemporary Art
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