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Details & Cataloguing

Contemporary Art Evening Auction

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London

Louise Bourgeois
1911 - 2010
LISTENING ONE
titled on the base
bronze, painted white
203 by 50.8 by 30.5 cm. 79 7/8 by 20 by 12 in.
Conceived in 1947 and cast in 1982, this work is number 3 from an edition of 6, plus 1 artist's proof. 
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Provenance

Robert Miller Gallery, New York
Acquired from the above by the present owner in September 1983

Exhibited

New York, Peridot Gallery, Louise Bourgeois, Recent Work 1947-1949: Seventeen Standing Figures in Wood, October 1949 (painted wood version, shown as Attentive Figures)
New York, The American Federation of Arts, New Directions, October 1962 - May 1963 (painted wood version, shown as Attentive Figures)
Baltimore, The Baltimore Museum of Art, The Partial Figure in Modern Sculpture, December 1969 - February 1970, p. 72, no. 11, illustrated (painted wood version, shown as Attentive Figures)
Waltham, Rose Art Museum, Brandeis University, From Women’s Eyes, May - June 1977, n.p. (text), (bronze with dark patina, edition 1/6)
New York, Xavier Fourcade Gallery, Louise Bourgeois, Sculpture 1941-1953. Plus One New Piece, September - October 1979 (bronze with dark patina, edition no. unknown)
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, pp. 60 (in installation at Louise Bourgeois, Sculpture 1941-1953. Plus One New Piece, Xavier Fourcade Gallery, New York, 1979) and 61, no. 62, illustrated (bronze with dark patina, edition no. unknown)
Paris, Maeght-Lelong; Zurich, Maeght-Lelong; and London, Serpentine Gallery, Louise Bourgeois: Retrospective 1947-1984, February - June 1985, pp. 15 (in installation at Louise Bourgeois: Retrospective, Museum of Modern Art, New York, 1982) and 20 (in installation at Louise Bourgeois, Sculpture 1941-1953. Plus One New Piece, Xavier Fourcade Gallery, New York, 1979), illustrated (bronze painted white, edition no. unknown)
Scottsdale, Riva Yares Gallery, Louise Bourgeois, February 1987 (bronze with dark patina, edition no. unknown)
Miami, Florida International University, Louise Bourgeois, October - November 1987
Frankfurt, Frankfurter Kunstverein; Munich, Stadtische Galerie im Lenbachhaus; Lyon, Musée d’art Contemporain; Barcelona, Fundación Tàpies; Bern, Kunstmuseum; and Otterlo, Kröller-Müller Museum, Louise Bourgeois: A Retrospective Exhibition, December 1989 - July 1991, p. 60, no. 2, illustrated (bronze painted white, edition no. unknown)
Vienna, Galerie Krinzinger Wien, Louise Bourgeois 1939-89 Skulpturen und Zeichnungen, May - June 1990 (bronze, edition no. unknown)
St. Louis, The Saint Louis Art Museum, Louise Bourgeois: The Personages, June - August 1994, p. 49, no. 12, illustrated in colour (bronze painted white, edition no. unknown)
Paris, Musée d’Art Moderne de la Ville de Paris, Louise Bourgeois: Sculptures, environments, dessins 1938-1995, June - October 1995, p. 61, illustrated in colour (bronze painted white, edition 4/6)
Hamburg, Deichtorhallen Hamburg, Louise Bourgeois Der Ort des Gedächtnisses: Skulpturen, Environments und Zeichnungen 1946-1995, January - March 1996, p. 53, illustrated in colour (bronze painted white, edition 4/6)
Westford, Joseloff Gallery, University of Hartford, Louise Bourgeois: The Forties and Fifties, Novmber - December 1996, n.p. (text), (bronze painted white, edition no. unknown)
Montreal, Musée d'Art Contemporain de Montreal, Louise Bourgeois, April - September 1996 (bronze painted white, edition no. unknown)
Yokohama, Yokohama Museum of Art, Louise Bourgeois: Homesickness, November 1997 - January 1998, p. 55, no. 20, illustrated in colour (bronze painted white, edition 4/6)
Raleigh, North Carolina Museum of Art, Sacred and Fatal: The Art of Louise Bourgeois, March - May 1998
Hanover, Dartmouth College, Jaffe-Friede & Strauss Galleries, Louise Bourgeois, February - March 1999 (bronze painted white, edition 4/6)
Champaign, Krannert Art Museum, University of Illinois; Madison, Madison Art Center; and Aspen, Aspen Art Museum, Louise Bourgeois: The Early Work, May - February 2003, p. 74, illustrated in colour (bronze painted white, edition 4/6)
Columbus, Wexner Center for the Arts, Columbus, Part Object Part Sculpture, October 2005 - February 2006, p. 41, illustrated in colour (bronze painted white, edition 4/6)
London, Tate Modern; Paris, Centre Pompidou; New York, Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum; Los Angeles, Museum of Contemporary Art; and Washington D.C., Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, Louise Bourgeois: Retrospective, October 2007 - June 2009, p. 12, no. 1 and p. 210, no. 199, illustrated in colour (bronze painted white, edition 4/6)
Annandale-on-Hudson, Bard College, Hessel Museum of Art, If You Lived Here, You’d Be Home By Now, June - December 2011 (bronze with dark patina, edition 1/6)
Madrid, Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofia; and Nîmes, Carré d'Art-Musée d'Art Contemporain Nîmes, Biographical Forms: Construction and Individual Mythologies, November 2013 - September 2015, p. 224, no. 104, illustrated in colour (bronze painted white, edition 4/6)
Los Angeles, Hauser Wirth & Schimmel, Revolution in the Making: Abstract Sculpture by Women 1947-2016, March - September 2016, p. 54, illustrated in colour (bronze painted white, edition 4/6)

Literature

Albert Elsen, ‘Notes on the Partial Figure’, Artforum, Vol. 8, November 1969, pp. 58-63 (text)
John Russell, ‘Art: The Sculpture of Louise Bourgeois’, The New York Times, 5 October 1979, illustrated (installation view)
Barbara Rose, ‘Two American Sculptors: Louise Bourgeois and Nancy Graves’, Vogue, January 1983, p. 223, illustrated (bronze painted white, edition no. unknown)
Alain Kirili, ‘The Passion for Sculpture – A Conversation with Louise Bourgeois’, Arts, vol. 63, March 1989, p. 70, illustrated (bronze with dark patina, edition no. unknown)
Exh. Cat., Hanover, Kestner-Gesellschaft, Louise Bourgeois – Skulpturen und Installationen, September - October 1994, p. 21, no. 2, illustrated in colour (bronze painted white, edition no. unknown)
Griselda Pollock, ‘Seeing Red: Drawing Life in Recent Works on Paper by Louise Bourgeois’, Parkett, No. 82, May 2008, p. 58, illustrated in colour (bronze painted white, edition no. unknown)
Jonathan Fineberg, Art Since 1940: Strategies of Being, New Jersey 2011, p. 44, illustrated in colour (bronze painted white, edition no. unknown)
Exh. Cat., Seoul, Kukje Gallery, Louise Bourgeois: Personages, May - June 2012, pp. 82 (in installation at Louise Bourgeois: Retrospective, Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles, 2008) and 84 (in installation at Louise Bourgeois, Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, Washington D.C., 2009), illustrated (bronze painted white, edition no. unknown)
Robert Storr, Intimate Geometries: The Art and Life of Louise Bourgeois, London 2016, p. 211, illustrated in colour (bronze painted white, edition no. unknown) 

Catalogue Note

During the 1940s, Louise Bourgeois embarked upon her first major body of work: The Personages. Slender, upright, top-heavy and precariously balanced upon a tapering point, these solemn and spare sculptures arose from a unique set of emotional and artistic circumstances that would lay the groundwork for the next seventy years of Bourgeois’s career. The present example, titled Listening One, is a substantial work from this series. In this piece, two totemic white forms appear to lean in and conspire with one another. Their presence is undeniably anthropomorphic yet at the same time architectonic: what at once appear to be windows might also be bodily orifices, and what may be a roof might instead represent a head. These pieces confuse domesticity and abstraction, architecture and corporeality, to invoke a surreal encounter in real space that is irrefutably human. Positioned at the very forefront of the artistic avant-garde in New York, Bourgeois’s sculptures are inextricable from the Surrealist and Abstract Expressionist circles of which she was part; indeed, contemporary works by Max Ernst, Barnett Newman, David Smith, and Alberto Giacometti demonstrate a remarkable correlation with Bourgeois’s own sculptural innovation. However, as much as Bourgeois was engaged in contemporaneous aesthetic debate and cutting-edge developments, the Personages were principally fuelled by an overwhelming compulsion to give physical form to her emotional distress. Considered the highpoint of Bourgeois’s early practice, these celebrated works are today housed in every major museum collection worldwide, including The Museum of Modern Art, New York; Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York; Whitney Museum of American Art, New York; Tate, London; and Fondation Beyeler, Basel to name only a few.

In 1938 Bourgeois married the American art historian Robert Goldwater and emigrated from Paris to New York that same year. It was here, amongst the cultural and artistic elite, that she began to pursue her artistic ambitions in earnest; with the birth of her first child in 1940, the burgeoning themes of her work truly came into focus. She began producing part-figurative and part-abstract paintings that combined a response to the New York metropolis with a surrealist atmosphere of alienation and isolation. The principal motif that emerged was an amalgam of exposed corporeality and towering architecture as succinctly expressed in the series of Femme Maison paintings made between 1945 and 1947. Described by art historian and curator Robert Storr as “Bourgeois’s hopes for a geometric framework capable of containing her emotional turmoil”, these hybrid edifices encapsulate the irreconcilable differences felt by Bourgeois and, indeed, by women more generally (Robert Storr, Louise Bourgeois: Intimate Geometries, London 2016, p. 119). Although shielded within a supposed haven of domesticity, these figures are nonetheless exposed and defenceless; their protective homes, though ostensibly defensive and anonymous, are also imprisoning vehicles for compliance and conformity. Bourgeois made her art in between taking care of her children; it is of no surprise therefore that many of the very initial themes of her work touch upon ambivalent feelings towards domesticity and motherhood.

The artist’s profound sense of homesickness during the 1940s added a further layer of emotional complexity to her early work; moreover, it was this very specific sense of grief that facilitated Bourgeois’s transition from painting and print-making to working in three-dimensions. The architectonic-anthropomorphic forms of the Femme Maison took on a physical dimension in 1947 with the Personages. Arising out of the artist’s desire to move beyond the confines of the two-dimensional and find an outlet for both her general restlessness (Bourgeois suffered from insomnia) and the force of her imaginative and emotional impulses, Bourgeois claimed the vacant lot on the roof of her building as a real space to think through and arrange the growing legion of monolithic figures that she began making in 1947. Using whatever materials came to hand – for example, cedar boards from water tower cladding, abandoned lumber, shop scraps and readily available balsa wood – Bourgeois cut, chiselled, and scraped these materials into slender totems of differing height and shape. While offering a response to the New York sky-line and as a corollary of the contemporary avant-garde, these pieces moreover served a specific psychical function. For Bourgeois, these portable and totemic forms were the human-scaled surrogates for the family members she so desperately missed. In her own words: “These pieces were presences – missed, badly missed presences… I was less interested in making sculpture at the time than in re-creating an indispensable past” (Louise Bourgeois cited in: ibid., p. 126). Principally painted white or black, and sometimes accented with shades of red and blue, the wooden Personages were figures intended to shore up against the threatening tide of loneliness.

Having to observe the Second World War from afar, the Personages enacted a splitting of Bourgeois’s self from an attachment to her absent loved ones: a process that art historian Mignon Nixon compares to the Freudian “work of mourning” (Mignon Nixon, Fantastic Reality: Louise Bourgeois and a Story of Modern Art, Cambridge, Massachusetts 2005, p. 140). Introduced in ‘Mourning and Melancholia’ (1917), Freud describes the process of mourning as one in which the grieving party overcomes their loss through a meticulous and painstaking activity of repeatedly sifting through and reliving associated memories. As observed by Nixon, “The ego actively detaches itself from the lost loved one: it severs the bond… The actions of chiselling and hammering, sharpening and filing, scraping, scratching, and puncturing through which Bourgeois produced the Personages evoke this assiduous labour, recalling Freud’s description of mourning as a severing of attachment” (Ibid.). That this process demanded concentrated and painful repetition is not only echoed in the scale of Bourgeois’s project (she created around 50 of these wooden sculptures over a period of 8 years), it is also apparent from the crowd-like groups in which they were arranged, both in Bourgeois’s home and at the first instance of their exhibition at Peridot Gallery in 1949 which included the wooden original of the present work.

Intended as a couple, Listening One is composed from two of Bourgeois’s hewn wooden edifices. Though entirely abstract, the proportions and subtle poise of these forms are wonderfully authentic and undeniably social; though turning inward towards one another, their presence is comforting and contemplative. Indeed, Bourgeois’s psychological attachment to her familial ‘surrogates’ was such that she kept most of the carved wooden originals with her for the best part of her life. Although she had ambitions to cast these works from the outset, bronze was an expensive material for an artist operating under the radar of the male-dominated commercial arena. It was only with the long-overdue recognition brought on by a reappraisal of Bourgeois’s oeuvre in the early 1980s that she was finally afforded the opportunity to fully realise this incredibly significant early body of work. Cast in 1982 and acquired by the present owner in 1983, Listening One is not only among the first of the Personages to be cast in bronze, it encapsulates the very essence of Bourgeois’s series – a body of work that today is rightfully considered a landmark of twentieth-century sculpture.

Contemporary Art Evening Auction

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London