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Introducing Louise Bourgeois : sculptor, painter, installation artist. (French, lived in USA, 1911 – 2010.). Cell (Arch of hysteria), 1992, steel, bronze, cast iron, fabric, 302 x 368 x 304cm.

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Introducing Louise Bourgeois: sculptor, painter, installation artist. (French, lived in USA, 1911 – 2010.)

Cell (Arch of hysteria), 1992, steel, bronze, cast iron, fabric, 302 x 368 x 304cm


Bourgeois’s work is intensely autobiographical. It is often based upon descriptions of the body or body parts (or things that look like some kind of body part.) When she was a young child, her father started a long affair with her live-in governess. At around the same time, her mother became severely ill and the young child Louise was her carer. As well, Louise played a working role in the family tapestry-repair business. These experiences were intensely traumatic and were the inspiration for all her work.

Also, the general fact of being a female artist in the first half of the century, producing rather disturbing work, would have been quite difficult. She was a wife and mother as well, so had responsibilities other than her art.


Femmes Maison, (Women Houses), drawings, dimensions various, 1946-7.


Destruction of the father, installation, 1974, plaster, latex, fabric, red light. 237 x 362 x 248cm

Detail, below


Bourgeois was associated with the Surrealists in the 1940s when she first moved to the USA from Europe. Like the Surrealists, she was interested in the unconscious and in sexuality. However she was very individual, working outside of any particular art movement. Right up until her death at 98 she was interested in art and working on her own practise.

Eccentric Growth, ink on paper, 1965, 24x33cm

Organic proliferation is a common

Theme in Bourgeois’s work…that is, the way things naturally grow, multiply, bulge and flow. Often this echoes what happens in various parts of our bodies.


During the 1990s she developed the theme of the ‘Cell’

an installation that looks like a prisoner’s or monk’s cell, or a room of some kind. It generally has a bed, or at least a domestic sense – tables, chairs. She has done many of these, with various contents. Sometimes they are very spooky and creepy, others are more compassionate or gentle. All of them are mysterious.


Cell II, detail, 1991

Cell – (glass, spheres and hands), 1990-93>


This in-built contradiction between protection / imprisonment is an on-going theme,

explored in different ways over the decades.

Cell – precious liquids, 1992

Cell (eyes and mirrors) detail, 1989-93


Another somewhat similar theme is the ‘lair’. Again, there is security but also containment

Lair, 1986-2000, lead, 109 x 53 x 53cm

Articulated lair, 1986



Spider IV, 1996

Maman, (Mother), 1999. Bourgeois created various versions of this sculpture, either in bronze

or steel. Dimensions 927 X 892 X 1024CM


The artist with her sculpture, Fillette, (Little Girl), 1982. Photograph by Robert Mapplethorpe.

Sexual themes are never far away from Bourgeois’s practice. ….

Can we locate Bourgeois’s practice within what we have learnt about various art styles /movements?

Trani Episode, 1971-2, marble, 60 x 60 x 58cm


Magritte, The Lovers,


Leonora Carrington (UK 1917-2011), Portrait of the late Mrs Partridge, 1947.

Dali, The accommodation of desire, oil and collage on cardboard, 22 x 34cm, 1929


Eugene Carriere, The First Communion,

oil on canvas,65cm x 53cm, c. 1896.

Edvard Munch, The Scream,


Fernand Khnopff, The sphinx, 1896



Q.: Analyse Meret Oppenheim’s practice with reference to the plates and text.

(14 marks;25 minutes)

Meret Oppenheim worked and exhibited with the Surrealists: Andre Breton, Marcel

Duchamp and Max Ernst. The Surrealists were interested in exploring the unconscious.

Plate 1: Meret Oppenheim, 1913-1985 Germany, Ma gouvernante(my nurse), 1936, metal, leather, and paper. 14 x 21 x 33cm, ModernaMuseet Stockholm.


Oppenheim was 23 years old when she achieved sensational success with Object. It was

purchased in the same year by the Museum of Modern Art in New York. Object rapidly

became one of the most recognised works of the Surrealist movement.

‘Who covers the soup spoon with precious fur? Little Meret. Who has outstripped

us? Little Meret.’ Text on the invitation to Meret Oppenheim’s first exhibition, 1936, Max Ernst.

Plate 2: Meret Oppenheim, 1913-1985 Germany, Object (Luncheon in Fur), 1936, fur-covered cup, saucer and spoon. 10.9cm diameter of cup; 23.7cm diameter of saucer; 20.2cm length of spoon. Museum of Modern Art, New York.


Victor Brauner, (Romania, 1903-1966) Loup-table

(Wolf-table), table and fox parts, 1939-47

Dora Maar (French, 1907-1997), Sans Titre, (untitled), 1934,Photograph.


The Surrealist Object did not bring objects

together for their formal values or

beauty. It was with a different intention,

the intention to create an unsettling effect

which may help us access a deeper or

different reality. It makes us mentally ‘wobble’,

just for a moment.

Joan Miro, (Spanish 1893-1983), Object, assemblage,

81 x 30 x 26, 1936


Exquisite Corpse: a game of chance where you did a drawing, then folded the paper over

So the next person could not see anything, then they did a drawing of their own, etc.

Andre Breton, Tristan Tzara, & Greta Knutson,

Landscape: exquisite corpse, c. 1933,

coloured pencil on paper, 24 x 31cm


Frottage: drawing on a support ( a canvas or piece of paper), which is itself laying over a textured surface. Rubbing or drawing over the support brings the contours of the underneath surface through onto the canvas or paper.

The idea behind this technique is that the artist cannot rationally control the outcome. There is a transformation; an entry into new imagery.

Max Ernst, Conjugal diamonds, frottage, 1926, 49cm x 32cm



Paint of some kind, or even ink is laid down on a support – paper, glass – and then it’s folded in half, or another piece of paper is placed upon it and squished so that the paint is transferred in ways that cannot be predicted. Then an image may be created from this blob or blot.

Oscar Dominguez, (French, 1906-1957), Untitled, decalcomania using gouache, 1936-7, 15 x 21cm


Q: Looking at Plates 1 & 2, using the

Structural Frame briefly outline three

ways the artists have used images

and /or symbols to convey meaning.

(10 minutes, 5 marks )

Plate 1: Andy Goldsworthy (UK B 1956) Ends of

Bamboo, 1987, installation Japan.

Plate 2: Michael Riley, (Aust. Indigenous, 1960-2004)

Untitled, from the series Cloud, 2000, digital

Pigment print, 110 x 155cm


Louise Bourgeois sources:

Museum of Modern Art, New York: