- Louise Bourgeois
- incised with the artist’s initials and dated 04 on a metal plaque on the heart; incised with the artist’s initials on the steel base inside the vitrine
- rubber, thread, stainless steel, metal, plastic, wood, glass and cardboard in stainless steel and glass vitrine
Galerie Karsten Greve AG, St. Moritz
Acquired from the above by the present owner in 2011
Naples, Museo Nazionale di Capodimonte, Per Capodimonte: Louise Bourgeois, October 2008 - January 2009, p. 174, illustrated in colour (installation view); and p. 175, illustrated in colour
Cologne, Galerie Karsten Greve AG, Louise Bourgeois: A Stretch of Time (Galerie Karsten Greve, Cologne: 40 years), September - November 2009, p. 9, illustrated in colour (installation view); and p. 23, illustrated in colour
Louise Bourgeois, quoted in: Christiane Meyer-Thoss, Louise Bourgeois: Designing for Free Fall, Zurich 1992, (2016 edition), p. 177.
Created in 2004, Louise Bourgeois’ Heart is replete with melancholic poignancy and visceral provocation. Treading the line between aggression and tenderness, this piece is a quintessential example of the artist’s ‘Old Age’ production – the period, beginning in the early 1990s and continuing until the end of her life, in which Bourgeois drew heavily upon her increasingly vivid childhood memories, particularly those concerning her mother. Containing sewing needles and threads, this work recalls the artist’s childhood home in Antony, a suburb of Paris, and the Bourgeois family’s tapestry repair 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). Containing a human scaled heart hooked up to a scaffold of cotton reels and glass orbs, the present work acts as a kind of self-portrait; the heart here acting as surrogate for Bourgeois herself. The equipment and tools that nurtured Bourgeois’ burgeoning artistic development act as a life support machine: needles and thread run like veins or electrical probes into the heart’s blood-red epidermis. For Bourgeois, the act of art making was tantamount to living itself: in interviews the frequent parsing of phrases such as “I have no ego. I am my work” or “For me, sculpture is the body. My body is my sculpture” proclaim the psychical inseparability of Bourgeois’ being and her art (Louise Bourgeois cited in: Christiane Meyer-Thoss, Louise Bourgeois: Designing for Free Fall, Zurich 1992, 2016 edition, pp. 122 and 195).
The repetition of certain forms and re-use of particular objects in Bourgeois’ work gave structure and expression to primordial emotions; these repeated forms provided the means of externalising introspection and giving physical form to painful memories and inchoate feeling. In this regard, Heart refers back to and reformulates a sculpture entitled Sutures created in 1993. Like Heart, a branching armature is loaded with individual cotton reels from which threaded needles pierce a central pendulous appendage – which in this work is in fact an inverted form taken from Bourgeois' early breakthrough series of Personages: the corpus of totem-like sculptures created as stand-ins for the family members she left behind when emigrating to New York in 1938. Visually evoking an elaborate family tree, the use of tightly wound cotton reels act as a recourse to one of the earliest and most persistent metaphoric symbols of Bourgeois’ production: the spiral. Connected to her memory of wringing out tapestries after washing them in the river and then fantasising that she might also wring the neck of her father’s mistress, the spiral forms an important psychical metaphor; an emotionally fuelled and unending centrifugal energy that simultaneously represents “control and freedom” (Louise Bourgeois cited in: op. cit., 2008-09, p. 279).
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). Nonetheless, piercing the rubber cast of what appears to be a human heart, the needles used in the present work are undoubtedly tinged with aggression; like pins in a voodoo doll, these implements, deeply associated with her childhood, trigger painful psychical states. This sense of emotional frailty is compounded by the inclusion of small glass vessels in the upper register of the work’s central scaffold. Within the artist’s symbolic lexicon glass infers fragility and the danger of something easily broken; thrust outwards and held aloft by a sacrificial cruciform armature, these delicate blue orbs harbour a annihilative potential, a looming threat of violence that finds a counterpart in the needles’ potentially painful promise of repair.
For Bourgeois this undercurrent of violence is essential to her artistic being; indeed, it is this emotional stance that marks her production out as among the most important and radical of the later Twentieth Century. Entirely entangled with her memories of her mother and her own ambivalent experience of motherhood, Bourgeois has opened up a space for an enriched female subjectivity that is qualified by the taboo of maternal ambivalence: “My mother would sit out in the sun and repair a tapestry or a petit point. She really loved it. This sense of reparation is deep within me […] I break everything I touch because I am violent. I destroy my friendships, my love, my children. People would not generally suspect it, but the cruelty is there in the work” (Louise Bourgeois cited in: Christiane Meyer-Thoss, op. cit., p. 185). In this passage, as in Heart, tenderness is complicated by aggression. Occupying a position that challenges precepts of femininity as inherently passive and motherhood as exclusively nurturing, Bourgeois presents female subjectivity as active, empowered, and destructive.