- Louise Bourgeois
- fabric and stainless steel
- 202 by 30.5 by 25 cm. 79 1/2 by 12 by 9 7/8 in.
- Executed in 2002, this work is unique.
Acquired from the above by the present owner in 2005
Cologne, Galerie Karsten Greve, Louise Bourgeois: Recent Work, April - July 2003
Ferrara, Palazzo Bonacossi, XI Biennale Donna, April - June 2004
Jena, Städtische Museen Jena, Louise Bourgeois: Sculpture, Drawings and Prints, September - November 2010, p. 51, no. 21, illustrated in colour
By dint of their composition, the Fabric Towers are very much attuned to the maternal themes and concerns telescoped by her iconic arachnids; however, where these protective and fierce spiders represent metaphoric stand-ins for Louise Bourgeois’ mother Josephine, the Fabric Towers instead allude to the very substance of her mother’s work: the family tapestry business. Sewing, fabric, and embroidery formed the constant backdrop to Bourgeois’ childhood, indeed, the family business and the family home were entirely intertwined. Bourgeois grew up surrounded by women repairing tapestries for her father’s shop in Paris, and from an early age an active involvement in the workshop cemented her path to becoming an artist: “I became an artist, whether I wanted to or not, when my parents, who repaired Aubusson tapestries, needed someone to draw on canvas for the weavers. Very early it was easy for me to draw the missing parts of these large tapestries. There were always missing parts, whether an arm, a leg, or something else” (Louise Bourgeois speaking in 1988, cited in: Exh. Cat., London, Tate Modern (and travelling), Louise Bourgeois, 2008-09, p. 286). This act of reparation, of re-doing and repetition, was moreover compounded by childhood memories of her mother, whom she fondly remembered sitting in the sun tenderly applying needle and thread to a tapestry or petit point in need of repair: “She really loved it. This sense of reparation is deep within me” (Louise Bourgeois speaking in 1992, cited in: ibid., p. 242). The forging of such profound maternal associations would have a lasting effect on Bourgeois: impulses shaped by the family craft and entrenched in childhood memories of her mother, the enduring need to repair, re-do, and repeat would ultimately come to inhabit the very core of her entire artistic production. In combining this innate compulsion with an emotive choice of media and execution, Untitled and the ‘old age’ opus of work to which is belongs, foreground the consequence of psychobiography more powerfully than ever before in Bourgeois’ oeuvre.
Though described as her old-age style – an art historical term often used as shorthand for a failing of the faculties or a sense of elegiac resolution – the works produced by Bourgeois during the last 20 years of her life are conversely the most unsettling, violent, inventive, and ambitious of her career. Deeply entrenched in the mythology surrounding her upbringing, Bourgeois retrospectively replays, reprises, and replicates her unabated memory of the psychological distress that devastated her youth. Though born into an affluent family who lived in the provincial outskirts of Paris, domestic life was fractured and unsettled. Her father’s live-in mistress, Bourgeois’ English tutor Sadie (an affair of which her mother was fully aware), left the artist with an enduring sense of betrayal and abandonment that is laid bare in many of her last works. Together these works embody a return of the repressed: by recalling the materials, spaces, and forms inextricably bound to her nascent childhood experiences, Bourgeois confronts her most primal of anxieties.
The sewn fabric blocks of the present work, though recalling her mother’s craft, possess none of the virtuosic bravura that one might expect; although these cushions are neat, the stitching is crude and uneven. In line with the uncanny fabric dolls that were executed concurrently, the present work exudes a childishly homespun aesthetic that speaks more of regression and desublimation than the skill she acquired whilst working in the family business. The architectural use of fabric here stems directly from the artist’s childhood memory of her home; the prominence of wall-hangings, tablecloths, and bedclothes instilled in the artist a highly sculptural and three-dimensional appreciation of fabric. Although she had written about the sculptural challenge of working in this medium during the 1960s, it was not until the late 1990s that she confronted this directly with the Fabric Towers. Indeed, while loaded with psycho-biographic portent, these works also investigate the object-hood of minimalism and explore the physical properties of fabric as an architectural instrument; in so doing Bourgeois invokes an innovative dialogue with the history of twentieth-century sculpture.
As art historian Linda Nochlin has suggested, the Fabric Towers “might be considered a tongue in cheek reference to Constantin Brancusi’s Endless Column”, while their clustered repetitious form calls to mind the post-minimal work of Eva Hesse, whose pioneering use of non-normative media reacted against the mechanical geometricism of 1960s Minimalist sculpture (Linda Nochlin, ‘Old Age Style: Late Louise Bourgeois’, in: Ibid., p. 195). Built around a hidden armature, Bourgeois’ fabric totems vary in terms of their chosen cloth and the way in which each tower is composed; some columns become narrower as they ascend, while others are constructed in jenga-like stacks of constant width; some are stitched together from reclaimed bits of tapestry while others are plain or sport geometric patterns. The result is a body of work that explores a range of formal possibilities according to a prescribed three-dimensional vocabulary. However, the true brilliance of these works is the way in which Bourgeois seamlessly weaves poignant psychobiography with challenging formal innovation.