Full-Career Retrospective of Louise Bourgeois Presented Through Fall 2008


Most Comprehensive Examination to Date of Bourgeois’ Distinguished Career Includes Paintings, Works on Paper, Environmental-Scale Installations Filled with Found Objects,  and Sculptural Essays in Wood, Marble, Metal, Plaster, and Latex

Exhibition: Louise Bourgeois
Venue: Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, 1071 Fifth Avenue, New York
Dates: June 27, 2008 – September 28, 2008


(NEW YORK, NY – June 25, 2008) – Louise Bourgeois, a full-career retrospective of one of the most important artists of our time, opens Friday, June 27, at the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum and remains on view through September 28, 2008. Organized by The Solomon R. Guggenheim Foundation in association with Tate Modern, London, and Centre Pompidou, Paris, the exhibition will fill the Guggenheim’s entire Frank Lloyd Wright rotunda and an adjacent gallery, making it the most comprehensive examination to date of Bourgeois’s long and distinguished career.

This exhibition is organized by the Solomon R. Guggenheim Foundation in association with Tate Modern, London, and Centre Pompidou, Paris.

The Leadership Committee for Louise Bourgeois, with founding gifts from John Cheim and Howard Read, Karsten Greve, and Iwan Wirth, is gratefully acknowledged.

Bourgeois was born in Paris in 1911, and immigrated to New York in 1938. One of the leading figures in 20th and 21st-century art, she has influenced multiple generations of artists with her unique and ever-evolving talent to wed form and narrative content. This ambitious retrospective encompasses over 150 of the artist’s works on paper, paintings, sculptures, and installations, providing an unprecedented opportunity to assess her richly complex oeuvre. The Guggenheim Museum is deeply committed to Bourgeois’s art, and in 1991 acquired an in-depth selection of her work representing the span of her career to date. An important installation from the museum’s permanent collection, Confrontation, 1978, is displayed in the Tower 5 gallery.

Bourgeois has remained steadfastly at the vanguard of the visual arts for more than seventy years, continuing to create new bodies of work with characteristic energy and restless innovation. Throughout a career that has intersected with many of the leading avant-garde movements of the twentieth century, including Surrealism, Abstract Expressionism, and Post-Minimalism, she has remained resolutely committed to a singular creative vision. Moving freely between abstraction and figuration, Bourgeois has developed a richly symbolic visual idiom that powerfully articulates the psychological imperatives behind her artistic process. What unifies Bourgeois’s myriad drawings, environmental-scale installations filled with found objects, and sculptural essays in wood, marble, metal, plaster or latex, is an intense emotional substance that at once exposes facets of her own personal history and confronts the more universal ethos of being human.

Present throughout her work is a fusion of seeming opposites, a deliberate dismantling of dualistic thought, which rends male from female, order from chaos, pleasure from pain.  In many of her anthropomorphic sculptures, Bourgeois merges corporeal elements from each of the genders to create ambiguous but nevertheless complete entities. The tension between diametrically opposed emotional states—aggression and impotence, desire and rejection, terror and fortitude—is given palpable form in her late, room-like sculptures known as Cells and the more recent body of work comprising sewn figures that represent pivotal moments in the cycle of life.

The Installation         
Louise Bourgeois encompasses representative selections from all of the major phases of the artist’s career.  Visitors are greeted in the museum’s rotunda by one of Bourgeois’ iconic spider sculptures, Spider Couple, 2003, and a pair of hanging aluminum works dating from 2004 that draw on another of her signature motifs, the spiral.  Appropriately, this recurring form in the artist’s iconography finds a corollary in the unique structure of the Guggenheim’s spiraling ramps, on which the works are arranged along predominantly chronological lines. Throughout the exhibition, the works on paper that are an integral and constant element of Bourgeois’ creative process are juxtaposed with her sculptural works.

The main body of the exhibition begins with paintings and drawings dating from the mid-1940s that depict female bodies half eclipsed in architectural structures – a vision of the “femme maison” whose identity is literally subsumed by the responsibilities and constrictions of the domestic role.  These works are interspersed by an installation of Bourgeois’ Personnages in the High Gallery. These anthropomorphic wooden totems, created as surrogates for the artist’s former life in France, are placed in staggered relational groupings, echoing their original installation in a series of solo exhibitions at the Peridot Gallery in New York between 1949 and 1953. Continuing up the ramps, the transitional multi-part sculpture The Blind Leading the Blind, 1947-49, introduces smaller groupings of Personnages. These slightly later works diverge from monolithic rigidity in favor of multiple segments threaded onto a central rod, such as Femme Volage, 1951, or the stacked columns of blocks that characterize Memling Dawn, 1951.

Around 1960 Bourgeois began to exploit the sculptural possibilities of a new repertoire of malleable materials such as plaster, latex, and resin, creating amorphous organic forms that evoke the human body and natural topographies. Works in this section of the exhibition such as Lair, 1962, and Fée Couturière, 1963, present roughly textured enclosed structures, suggesting both protective nests and sinister traps. This characteristic ambiguity of reference is extended in the limp, indeterminate biomorphic forms of such seminal works as Janus Fleuri, 1968 and Filette, 1968, as well as in Bourgeois’ first major environmental sculpture, The Destruction of the Father, 1974 – a grisly evocation of a cannibalistic family meal.  The exhibition continues with a broad selection of sculptures executed primarily in marble and bronze, in which the pliable softness of Bourgeois’ formal vocabulary is offset by the hard inflexibility of these traditional mediums. Many of these works are abstractions formed from the smooth, globular protuberances that the artist refers to as Cumuls (“clouds”). Others, such as the hanging bronze, Arch of Hysteria, 1993, render anatomical form with a new verisimilitude.  An adjacent gallery displays Confrontation, 1978 – a tableaux of latex forms ringed by wooden barriers that are shown alongside archival footage of the performance that accompanied the piece when it was first exhibited.

The museum’s final ramps are devoted primarily to Bourgeois’ Cells – the large-scale enclosed installations that the artist produced throughout the 1990s. Incorporating both found or personal objects and carved sculptures within structures that are simultaneously claustrophobic prisons and shielding cloisters, these complex assemblages are vessels for deeply autobiographical, psychological narratives.  The exhibition culminates with a selection of recent fabric-based sculptures.  In these unsettling works, stuffed heads, torsos and intertwined figures – some of which are stitched from the Bourgeois’ own clothes and household linens – enact a primal drama of sexual and familial relationships.

Exhibition Tour
The New York presentation of Louise Bourgeois is curated by the Guggenheim’s Chief Curator, Nancy Spector. The exhibition is organized
by Frances Morris, Head of Collections (International Art) of Tate Gallery; Curator, Tate Modern; Jonas Storsve, Curator of Centre Georges Pompidou, and guest curator Marie-Laure Bernadac. Following its presentation at the Guggenheim, the exhibition will travel to the Los Angeles Museum of Contemporary Art in fall 2008 and the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, Washington, D.C., in winter 2009.

The exhibition is accompanied by a fully illustrated catalogue providing an overview of Bourgeois’ life and work. Taking the form of an A-Z glossary, the catalogue encompasses relevant themes, individual works, select quotations, and succinct essays, all interspersed with examples of the artist’s own writings. It also includes an illustrated biography and a full chronology. Published by Tate Publishing, the hard cover edition is distributed through Rizzoli at a cost of $45 in soft cover and $65 in hard cover. Both editions are available for purchase the Guggenheim Museum store.

Education Programs
A full schedule of educational programs is being presented under the auspices of the Sackler Center for Arts Education during the run of the exhibition.  For updated information regarding ticketed programs, contact the Box Office at 212 423 3587 or visit www.guggenheim.org/education.

On View in the Sackler Center 
A Life in Pictures: Louise Bourgeois
June 27-September 12
In conjunction with the retrospective, the Guggenheim’s Sackler Center for Arts Education presents A Life in Pictures: Louise Bourgeois, an exhibition of photographs and diaries from the artist’s archives.  For Louise Bourgeois, art and life are inextricably linked.  Although her complex, allusive work attains a universal significance, she has spoken of the autobiographical subtext that underpins her unique symbolic language. This exhibition of photographs and ephemera illuminates the artist’s personal history, from her childhood in prewar France to present day New York.  This presentation is organized by Nancy Spector, Chief Curator of the Guggenheim Museum, and entrance is free with museum admission.

Lectures and Panels
Patterns of Memory - Shapes of Anxiety
Tuesday, July 22, 6:30 PM
Professor Robert Storr, Dean, Yale School of Art offers this lecture on the rich career of Louise Bourgeois.  For seventy years Louise Bourgeois has given form to the contradictions of existence at their most acute.  Often figurative but just as often abstract, a prone to radical mutations, her work has seemed disparate to observers who have followed it only episodically.  Now, in retrospect, it has become clear that it is knitted together by formal, thematic and emotional threads that make it all of a piece.  Tickets are $10 and $7 for members and students.


Old-Age Style: Late Louise Bourgeois
Tuesday, September 16, 6:30 PM
Linda Nochlin, Professor of Modern Art at the Institute of Fine Arts, New York University, discusses Louise Bourgeois’s “late style” within the context of the artist’s long and distinguished career. Professor Nochlin focuses on the stuffed fabric sculptures contrasting this characteristic “soft” production with the more architectonic sculptures dating from the same period. Tickets are $10 and $7 for members and students.


Eye to Eye:  Artist Led Tours of Louise Bourgeois
Various Dates, 6:30 PM
This new series invites the public to join a multigenerational group of leading contemporary artists on private guided tours that explore Bourgeois’s distinctive iconography.  Tours will be offered by Nayland Blake, July 7; David Altmejd, July 14 and July 21; Karen Finley, July 28 and August 27; Rachel Harrison, September 8; and Marina Abramoviæ, September 17. Receptions with the artist offering the tour will follow.  A single tour is $25 and $20 for members. Series of 3 is $60 and $50 for members. Limit 25 people per tour.


Film Screening

LOUISE BOURGEOIS: The Spider, The Mistress and The Tangerine

Friday, September 26, 6:30 pm

Directed by Marion Cajori and Amei Wallach, this new, long-awaited film about the life and the work of the iconic Bourgeois celebrates her art and her times through intimate conversations with the artist, archival footage and exquisitely shot sequences of her art, filmed from 1992 through 2008.  The screening will be followed by a conversation with a circle of Bourgeois’s close friends, family and art world luminaries, including her long-time assistant Jerry Gorovoy; Nancy Spector, Chief Curator, Guggenheim Museum; and Deborah Wye, Chief Curator of the Department of Prints and Illustrated Books, Museum of Modern Art; moderated by Amei Wallach. Tickets are $15 and $10 for members and students.  

Admission and Museum Hours: $18 adults, $15 students/seniors (65+), children under 12 free. Admission includes audio guide. Saturday to Wednesday, 10 AM to 5:45 PM; Friday, 10 AM to 7:45 PM. Closed Thursday. On Friday evenings, beginning at 5:45 PM, the museum hosts Pay What You Wish. For general information call, 212 423 3500, or visit www.guggenheim.org.

March 14, 2008
Updated June 25, 2008

Betsy Ennis, Director, Media and Public Relations
Claire Laporte, Associate, Media Relations
Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum
212 423 3840
E-mail: publicaffairs@guggenheim.org


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