Louise Bourgeois: An Unfolding Portrait, on view through January 28, 2018, is the first comprehensive survey of Bourgeois’s prints and illustrated books. It places these mediums within the context of the artist’s overall practice and sheds new light on her creative process. The exhibition includes 265 prints (including those in books and series), 23 sculptures, nine drawings, and two early paintings. Louise Bourgeois is organized by Deborah Wye, Chief Curator Emerita of the former Department of Prints and Illustrated Books—a longtime friend of the artist and a leading scholar of her work—with Sewon Kang, Curatorial Assistant, Department of Drawings and Prints.
Louise Bourgeois (1911–2010), a celebrated sculptor who worked in multiple mediums, was motivated by emotional struggle. Through art, she made her emotions tangible and sought to understand and cope with painful memories, jealousy, anger, anxiety, loneliness, and despair. Art was her tool of “survival,” she said, and her “guarantee of sanity.” This exhibition highlights the themes and motifs that served as visual metaphors for Bourgeois and recur in her artistic practice across seven decades. They vary from architectural forms to growth and germination in nature, from the human body and sexuality to motherhood, and even include symbolic abstraction. Her illustrated books bring attention to another of Bourgeois’s little-known creative outlets: her highly evocative writings, which form the texts for these volumes.
“Her prints and their evolving states of development are especially revealing as they provide the opportunity to see Bourgeois’s imagination unfold,” says exhibition curator Deborah Wye. “To view such sequences is akin to looking over the artist’s shoulder as she worked.”
The creation of multiple examples of the same composition is fundamental to printmaking, and this encouraged Bourgeois to re-envision her imagery in myriad ways by embellishing her prints with gouache, watercolor, pencil, and ink to reflect her changing moods. She also 2 benefited from printmaking’s collaborative nature, which often entails the encouragement of publishers and the assistance of expert technicians. Bourgeois’s printmaking relationships could lift her spirits, and the work she accomplished with her collaborators in her home/studio on 20th Street in Manhattan was creatively energizing.