Louise Bourgeois (1911-2010)
June 1, 2010 | by David Wallace-Wells
When Louise Bourgeois published “The View From the Bottom of the Well,” a seminarrative portfolio of prints, in The Paris Review (Fall 1996), she seemed already to be gazing up from the grave. Bourgeois, who died yesterday at ninety-eight, had been long enjoying a kind of afterlife as a celebrity sculptor, with work that made improbably explicit the themes that had animated her work from the nineteen fifties and nineteen sixties—the human body and its vulnerability, the threat of predation, sexuality both grotesque and ever-present.
That afterlife owed quite a lot to a 1982 photograph by Robert Mapplethorpe, which showed a grandmotherly Bourgeois fondling her phallic sculpture Fillette. And when she began in her seventies and eighties to receive major commissions and museum retrospectives, the acclaim seemed as much personal as aesthetic, the exhibitions inspired as much by her engaging biography and confessional personality as by the work itself, which could hardly be reduced to the story of childhood trauma. Longtime followers knew that Bourgeois was much more than Spiderwoman, and in the summer of 1984, at perhaps the peak of her fame, the Review published a small portfolio of her drawings from the fifties—as a kind of reminder, it seems, that though her work was often engrossingly personal it was also, at its best, arcane. Below, a slide show of her two portfolios from The Paris Review: