Louise Bourgeois 1911-2010

Ottawa - April 20, 2011

National Gallery of Canada exhibition pays tribute to one of the past century’s most remarkable creative minds.
From April 21, 2011 to March 18, 2012

The remarkable artistic career of Louise Bourgeois, who passed away in May 2010 at the age of 98, will be in the National Gallery of Canada (NGC) spotlight as of tomorrow. The Gallery pays tribute to the French-born, American artist, who is best known in Ottawa for her majestic bronze spider Maman that greets visitors on the museum's plaza and whose work the NGC has been collecting for nearly two decades. Louise Bourgeois 1911-2010 offers the opportunity for viewers to admire more than twenty important sculptures and drawings by the artist created between 1949 and 2008 and on view in the Contemporary Art galleries B109 and B105 until March 18, 2012.

"Louise Bourgeois is a major figure of our era," said NGC director Marc Mayer. "This exhibition will give our visitors the opportunity to explore some of the aesthetic preoccupations of this brilliant artist. We are grateful to the generosity of the Louise Bourgeois Trust for their loans of highly significant sculptures, which date back to the beginning of her career as well as some magnificent last works."

Louise Bourgeois’ extraordinary career influenced many of the 20th-century's major movements in art and culture, from surrealism to abstract expressionism, minimalism and conceptualism to feminism. The presentation is inspired by Bourgeois' first solo show at New York's Peridot Gallery in 1949, which intimately showcased the artist's totem-like Personage sculptures in small domestically-scaled rooms. Louise Bourgeois 1911-2010 brings together 18 works loaned by the Louise Bourgeois Trust and five major pieces from the NGC collection. The installation begins with the sculptor's famous wooden Personages, carved in memory of family and friends Bourgeois left behind as she immigrated to New York in 1938 with her husband, the late art historian Robert Goldwater. One of the most famous of these sculptures, Portrait of C.Y. (1947-49), is in the Gallery's collection. In the final section of the presentation are a selection of dramatic late gouache on paper drawings and six bronze sculptures of clothing called from Bourgeois' "Echo" series that recall the sentiment of the artist's much earlier pieces. In B105 is Cell (The Last Climb), a reverential late work acquired by the NGC in 2010 that movingly reflects on the life of one of the twentieth century's most significant creative figures.

The series of works being featured in Louise Bourgeois 1911-2010 appear as follows:

Between 1946 and 1955 Louise Bourgeois created some eighty carved painted wood sculptures known as Personages. For the most part, these monolithic forms were top- heavy and tapered to a point. They could not stand on their own, mirroring Bourgeois' psychological frailty of the period. For her first two solo sculpture exhibitions at the Peridot Gallery in New York City, in 1949 and 1950, the artist positioned the totemic spires in groupings. The spires were mounted directly on the floor and conceived as an environmental installation. The viewer enters a space that resembles people conversing at a social gathering. Bourgeois’ Personages symbolize a period of mourning for family and friends left behind in Europe when she moved to the US in 1938. She also related these free-standing sculptures to her own fears and anxieties as a wife, a mother, and a young artist at that time: “The monoliths are absolutely stiff – and show the stiffness of someone who’s afraid. The way one can say ‘he’s scared stiff’. Immobilised with fear. Stuck. This was an entire period.”

Early 1950s: Forêt (Night Garden) (1953) and Untitled (1950)
Bourgeois' Personages evolved from simple to more articulated forms and from standing in isolation from each other into groupings. Bourgeois spoke of a “softening” in her work derived “from the softness of my children and of my husband … I got the nerve to look around me, to let go. Not to be so nervous. Not to be so tense.” Aesthetically, the rigidity of the early wood sculptures begins to loosen into multiple elements piled vertically and that had the possibility to pivot, as in Untitled (1950). In Forêt (Night Garden), the artist created a crowded, more intimate congregation of bulbous wood carvings assembled on a singular base. Bourgeois described the shift in her work at this time as “a change from rigidity to pliability.” While she began to cast her personages in bronze in the late 1950s and worked with marble, steel and metal throughout her career, the idea of pliability equally prefaced an interest in liquids, latex, plastic and other non-traditional sculptural materials that would shape much of Bourgeois’ production from the 1960s until her death.

Early drawings: Untitled (1949) and Untitled (1950)
Louise Bourgeois’ formal explorations in her simple yet elegant ink drawings from the late 1940s and 1950s resemble woven materials. References to weaving and tapestry are recurrent for this artist, whose parents owned a tapestry restoration business where Bourgeois spent much of her young childhood. Like many of her works, these drawings alternate between abstraction and signification, pushing the viewer from concrete reality into a purely creative environment. “Drawings,” Bourgeois stated, “are thought feathers, they are ideas that I seize in mid flight and put down on paper. All my thoughts are visual.”

Late drawings 2007
Drawing remained an active part of Louise Bourgeois’ artistic practice until the very end of her life. Some of her latest works, including The Couple (2007) and The Family (2008), are made with red gouache and express with intensity the bonds between husband and wife, and between mother and child. For Bourgeois, red is not only the colour of blood, but also of intensity, aggression and jealousy. In a 1989 interview Bourgeois plainly explained, “I have three frames of references. I have the frame of reference of my father and mother, and that of my own experience. I have the frame of reference of my children. And the three are stuck together.”

Echo Series
Bourgeois began incorporating her own clothing into her installations in the mid 1990s. Her dresses, blouses and other garments had come in contact with her own body and contained memories of people, relationships and places. In 2007, Bourgeois began a series of sculptures using discarded clothing that she stretched, stitched and reconfigured, then cast into bronze, which she painted a pale white. The sculptures have an anthropomorphic quality that “echoes” the sentiment of her “personages” of the 1940s and 1950s in conjuring abstractly human characteristics. In connecting her clothing to memories in her work, Bourgeois wrote: “Time – time lived, time forgotten, time shared. What does time inflict — dust and disintegration? My reminiscences help me live in the present, and I want them to survive. I am a prisoner of my emotions. You have to tell your story, and you have to forget your story. You forget and forgive. It liberates you.”

Cell (The Last Climb)(2008)
This work is the last of the more than 20 large-scale Cell sculptures she created over three decades. The structures, cluttered with mementos from her personal life, often evoke a sense of mortality, entrapment, decay — fears she herself had carried from her childhood. Here Bourgeois appears to have made peace with these anxieties. The spiral staircase, rescued from her long-time Brooklyn studio, rises out of the structure, as translucent spheres "float" towards the same opening. The elongated blue teardrop hovering halfway up the stairs represents the artist herself; the two wooden spheres below symbolize her parents. Open and ethereal, the sculpture is less obsessed with suffering than with spiritual discovery as it reflects on the inevitability of time and its relationship to events of the past.

Exhibition curator
Jonathan Shaughnessy is Assistant Curator, Contemporary Art at the NGC and the curator of Louise Bourgeois 1911 – 2010. Recently, he coordinated Pop Life: Art in a Material World, and Real Life: Ron Mueck and Guy Ben-Ner, which just finished its Canadian tour. He has worked with numerous Canadian and international artists and was instrumental in the recent acquisition by the National Gallery of Louise Bourgeois’ monumental sculpture Cell: The Last Climb (2008).

Meet the curator
On Friday, May 6 at noon, Jonathan Shaughnessy will give a talk about the artist and her work. In the exhibition space. Included with Gallery admission.

Screening of Louise Bourgeois, The Spider, The Mistress and The Tangerine (2008), directed by Marion Cajori and Amei Wallach. 99 minutes. In the Lecture Hall. Thursday May 12 at 6 pm, Friday June 3 at noon, Friday July 8 at noon, Saturday August 20 at
2 pm, and Sunday September 25 at 2 pm. Free admission.

Tickets are $9 for adults, $7 for seniors and full-time students, $4 for youths aged
12 to 19 years, and $18 for families (two adults and three children). Admission is free of charge for children under 12 and for Members of the Gallery, and on Thursdays from 5 pm to 8 pm. This includes admission to the NGC Collection.

 Opening Hours
1 May – 30 September: Open daily from 10 am to 5 pm, Thursday to 8 pm.
1 October – 30 April: Open Tuesday to Sunday from 10 am to 5 pm; Thursdays until 8 pm. Closed Mondays. Open Ontario Family Day, Spring Break in Ontario and Quebec, Easter Sunday and Monday, Thanksgiving Day, Remembrance Day starting at noon, and 26-27 December. Closed Good Friday, Christmas Day, New Year's Day and 2 January 2012.

About the National Gallery of Canada
The National Gallery of Canada is home to the most important collections of historical and contemporary Canadian art, including the extensive collection of the Canadian Museum of Contemporary Photography. The Gallery also maintains Canada's premier collection of European Art from the 14th to the 21st century, as well as important works of American, Asian and Indigenous Art and renowned international collections of prints, drawings and photographs. Created in 1880, the National Gallery of Canada has played a key role in Canadian culture for well over a century. Among its principal missions is to increase access to excellent works of art for all Canadians. To do so, it maintains the largest touring art exhibition programme in the world. For more information, visit www.gallery.ca.

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