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Louise Burgeois

Updated on July 26, 2010

Louise Bourgeois was a French-American artist. She was born in Paris in 1911, and recently the Vedova Foundation in Venice was preparing an exhibition (title: The Fabric works) in her honour, when the news of her sudden death arrived. Bourgeois died on May 2010, in New York.

She can be considered one of greatest artist of the 20th century. Her influences are from Surrealism, Abstract Expressionism and Minimalism, but she escapes any classification. She built her own way of doing art. On the website of the Centre Pompidou you can find a very interesting educational dossier dedicated to Bourgeois.


She is well-known for her spiders, which gave her the nickname of spider-women. Her spiders are huge sculptures made of different types of metal. If you have seen one of those spiders, the first thing you've probably noticed is the size. They are much bigger than a human being -- thirty or forty times bigger. Their legs can be four, five, seven meters long. The spectator is immediately surprised and overwhelmed by the size of those spiders but also by the muscular force of their flexuous legs.

It is as though one could be devoured right away. The sensation is that of anxiety, fear, impotence on the part of the spectator. At the same time, however, these flexuous metallic constructions are rigid, unmovable, detached and somehow innocuous. At times, one can also feel a sense of nurturing, love, care, and protection.

A detail of the body of the spider, shown in its entirety in the other picture.
A detail of the body of the spider, shown in its entirety in the other picture.

Fear and memory

A sense of anxiety and fear, along with unattained happiness, is a recurrent theme in Burgeois' artistic works. In her own words:

Art comes from life. Art comes from the problem you have in seducing birds, men, snakes--anything you want. It is like a Corneille tragedy where everybody is pursuing somebody else: you like A, A likes D, and D likes… Being a daughter of Voltaire and having an education in the 18th-century rationalists, I believe that if you work enough, the world is going to get better. If I work like a dog on all these…contraptions, I am going to get the bird I want… [Yet] the end result is rather negative. That's why I keep going. The resolution never appears; it's like a mirage. I do not get the satisfaction, otherwise I would stop and be happy.

Another recurrent theme in her work is that of memory. She associated sometimes her spiders to a mother figure. The web that the spider spinns and constructs is a web of memories, which can be nurturing and loving, but also oppressing and suffocating.

Fabric works

The exhibition The Fabric Works that the Vedova Foundation in Venice was organizing when Bourgeois died is centered around her fabric drawings. Burgeois produced them between 2002 and 2008. They are the result of an obbessive and monotonous insistence on straight and parellel lines, combined in various way -- sometimes yielding the figure of a spider-web, sometimes yielding hallucinating figures that is painful to look at, because they confuse and fatigue the eyes.

It seems that Bourgeois spent sleepless and frustrating nights, drawing straight and parallel lines, and so she combined the fruits of those nights into some of her fabric works.

As she herself would say, if she were happy, she would stop -- and she would sleep. But she was not happy, she was not content. So, she kept creating art, out of fear, anxiety, and love, until death took her away from us.


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