The studio of the artist is really the self portrait and I don’t have to say anything.
Obviously, sadly, we will not hear her speak again. She has spoken so much, so loudly: her work will long yell, powerful and strong, as everybody has acknowledged. Powerful in proportion to her extreme fragility to which I pay homage by pointing out a very small object, essential in all her creations, but always overlooked.
The needle, monumentalized in the important sculpture Needle (Fuseau) (1992, cat. 176 in Louise Bourgeois, the catalogue for the 2008 Guggenheim Museum retrospective), is present as a real object integrated in numerous pieces, a fact overlooked by art critics. There are obvious reasons for that forgetfulness. Its diminutive size prevents it from being visible in reproductions, unless a detailed view of the work is provided. Curators have not focused attention on that aspect of the work. Louise’s penises (or Phallus, if you are Lacanian) have been the common focus of scholars (spawning animated debates over the possibility that the phallic forms were actually breasts). Finally, apart from Marie-Laure Bernadac’s book(2) on Bourgeois, and the exhibition "Louise Bourgeois: Memory and Architecture," held at the Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofia in Madrid (Nov. 1999-Dec. 2000), her work has been photographed without any attention to this "detail." It is also possible that scholars obey a strong injunction of Bourgeois’ mother herself, who said, "You shall not touch the needle."
Needless to say, I’ll disobey.
Let us speak about it, look at it, and look at Louise’s life by following it in her sculptures and interviews, keeping in mind two documentaries shown during her 2008 Guggenheim Museum retrospective: The French Trilogy by Brigitte Cornand (composed of Chère Louise: a portrait of Bourgeois , C’est le murmure de l’eau qui chante  and La rivière gentille ); and Louise Bourgeois: The Spider, The Mistress and the Tangerine by Marion Cajori and Amei Wallach (1993-2007).
We will unravel the fabric of her life with the numerous needles we find here and there.
1. You shall not touch the needle.
It is a general misconception to imagine Louise Bourgeois born with needle in hand, or her mother with one. The rare times her mother touched the needle herself has been recorded in A Life in Pictures: Louise Bourgeois(3)in a photograph shot in the family garden, not in the workshop. She only held the needle as a hobby. As Bourgeois explained to Xavier Tricot, contrary to what people might think, the mother never wove; on the contrary, her specialty and delight was to cut. "My mother organized the repair of ancient tapestries, that are called Arras -- a town where there were a lot of Flemish tapestries. She considered it to be a conceptual work. She did not consider it to be weaving. She thought of it as a collage: 'putting together,' 'repairing.' Which meant finding pieces from the same area that could replace the damaged parts."
And it is in this role that Louise Bourgeois herself is portrayed in the opening of the second part of the French Trilogy: putting different parts together and explaining how to recognize which fragment could be "collaged" to another. Drawing was a more "dignified" activity than sewing, praised by the mother, and it also made the young Louise useful. She drew for the restoration of tapestries. Later in her work, drawing and sewing were no longer mutually exclusive.
Contrary to the reality of her childhood, as Bernadac remarked in her introduction to the book Insomnia Drawings, needlework is one of the "frameworks" for her series of drawings. Her motifs "reference thread and yarn, stitching and knitting that also appear in her sculpture at their time" (in Red Room (Child) [1994, cat. 224], for example). Robert Storr has noted that "In the late 1940s and 1950s Bourgeois’ sculptures were fairly simple in their primary aspects, being predominantly needle- or bobbin-shaped lozenges unsteadily balanced on point and reminiscent of the tools of the family trade"(4).
Bernadac has also commented upon Bourgeois’ well-known skein drawings(5) (spanning from 1943 to 1953) and has identified the black rubber shapes hung in Articulated Lair (1986)(6) as derived from the shape of the shuttle’s weaver. As early as the 1940s a letter (from Bourgeois to Alfred Barr) favored a display of her monolith sculptures in different positions, not strictly vertical. In fact, around this time the shapes, strung along a vertical rod, were already more flexible and could turn, as would beads threaded with a needle. The works of the 1990s reveal different possible "articulations" of the monoliths. When some of the streamlined (fuseau) shapes became associated with the skeins, the thread more visible and longer, and the (previously hidden) supporting vertical rod visible, the monolith took on a new life, so to speak.
Bourgeois’ work disobeys the maternal injunction. The needles have been touched, seized and placed in many Cells, pricking the elongated forms and recycling the shapes of her early monoliths. They are stuck into these long round pieces of wood (often painted pink), always threaded, intentionally dissociated from any hand. They have a function. They join forms, connected to bobbins in Red Room (Child) of 1994 (cat. 224) and tied to the clothes on hangers made of bones in Cell VII (1998, cat. 63). They connect bobbins and Heart (2004, cat. 228). Through these fragile and broken threads, Bourgeois seems to bind herself to the representation of the mother (a dead mother) whose body is evoked by old garments and bones, or whose bed is made of outdated French post bags embroidered in red inscriptions, in a kind of missive to the dead (Cell I, 1994, cat. 57). Would daughter and mother be related through this interdiction? Doesn’t this explain that one of her personnages (French for "characters") was called a needle? It certainly looks like one.
What is more surprising are the needles that can be found in beds. What are they doing there? I count three examples: Red Room (Parents) (1994, cat. 225-6), Cell VII (cat. 63, 1998) and Femme pieu (1970, cat. 132). Contrary to the Guggenheim description of Red Room, the surface of the red bed is not "smooth and absolutely flat." There is a little red excrescence there, as long as the finger of a little boy, pricked with two threaded needles. In Cell VII, the bed is placed at the top of a stair similar to the famous tower created for the opening of the Tate Modern Turbine Hall in 2000. Threaded needles project from the formless white mass. In Femme Pieu, prudishly translated as "woman stake" by all museums, and associated with the prehistoric Venus of Willendorf (Storr, Rubin(7)), a needle stands out and is associated to a bed since its title, pieu, is common French slang for bed. To conflate a woman and a bed, as in the expression Marie couche-toi là, designates a prostitute. We are not losing the thread of our discussion, since the petites mains were light women: prostitutes.
The sexual allusion is not farfetched in French: enfiler (to thread) a woman is the slang equivalent of the English expression "to screw"(8), presumably because the eye of the needle becomes a metaphor for the female "hole" while the thread is the mobile active penis. In this context, the thin needles(9) sticking out in Femme Pieu, intertwined with numerous threads, allude to pubic hair, while the longest tapestry needle seems from its height to eye the viewer. Such a display of the female sex seems to confirm the origin of weaving given by Freud: women would braid their fleece in a masturbatory gesture. For those who are not convinced, the third argument is given by the artist herself who, speaking of the spider, the emblem of the spinner, wrote: "She leans against the wall (see the prostitute who eyes her client from the shadow of the doorway, against the door of the year)."(10)
The explicit sexual content of the tapestry business is obvious if one looks at the pieces of tapestry used in Cell VII. The few bits that the artist managed to preserve after the dispersion of the family’s collection of Aubusson and Gobelin tapestries via auctions after her father’s death (1951) are particularly significant: the genitalia have been cut out. See the reproduction on page 286 of the Guggenheim catalogue. The putto’s parted leg exhibits a hole which a simple explanation fills. During the French Reformation, genitals had to be removed from antique tapestries. Believe it or not, her mother kept a book of all the cutouts. Was her hobby to put them back on, or just flip this book in delight? The creative example that the mother gave to her daughter is not of mending, and repairing, contrary to the many misleading claims by Bourgeois: it’s an act of mutilation. When mending is really occurring, it is at the profit of some suggestive juxtaposition: "The most important room in the house was that of the seamstress. She was mending my father’s pants, and my brassieres." The needle mends garments of both genders. On the pile to be sewn, father and daughter intermingle.
2. Sewing an orange skin
Seamstress mistress distress stress (11)
Words in Bourgeois’ prose sound sewn together (her Surrealist trait), in a sonorous repetition which makes you hear the thread sizzle, as well as her breath and anxiety. Her humming is constant when she works. On one side, the mother passed to the child the concept of a forbidden needle, in terms alluding to the forbidden fruit. On the other side, the father takes a fruit in his hand, a tangerine, to also speak of something forbidden to little girls by (mother) nature. We know what -- the unavoidable penis.
The scene is much more interesting than this banality. Louise can hardly tell this anecdote. She can only repeat with her hands what she saw her father do to her.(12) It’s a very important moment of the seven-hour-long French Trilogy, since it’s the only time that one sees Louise sculpt. The artist begins by tracing seemingly abstract lines. The father cut along those lines with a razor blade, she explains, duplicating the silhouette of his girl Louise, he says (not his other daughter Henriette, but Louise only), with "big breasts." She then skillfully detaches the orange skin to reveal, on the white side of the peel, the core of the fruit, delicately pulled from between the sections of the tangerine. This white "thing," still attached to the peel, now sticks out, showing off something great (big) and beautiful, of which the daughter was deprived. This "joke" of the father, ridiculing his daughter’s anatomy at the dinner table, astoundingly, made the whole family laugh.
Isn’t it interesting to note that the artistic trace that Louise gave of this traumatic event required the use of a needle? The artist sewed a replica of this silhouette (Untitled, 1990, cat. 163) on a board. In catalogues, this work, and the less reproduced variant The Orange Episode (which shows the front and back of two orange silhouettes(13)) are usually placed next to the story relating this event.(14) The scene in Cajori’s film does not do that and is poignant for this very reason. Louise sculpts the silhouette, and remains silent. She doesn’t ask to turn off the camera, despite her crying. She just breathes to be able to say: "after 50 years, after 50 years, I who never cry -- it still hurts." And she probably took this pain with her when she died.
I am sure that those who saw this scene still remember it. And it’s because the documentary was programmed during the recent Guggenheim retrospective that I still cannot understand the poor position (displayed on a side wall) given to this work. After some research, I was glad to discover that at least one critic, Christine Terrisse, related this sculpture to Fillette (in French, "little girl"):
The portrait of Louise Bourgeois with Fillette (1968), photographed by Robert Mapplethorpe in 1982, is an ironical illustration of the victory of the penis-nied (sic): Bourgeois has managed to seize the Organ and carry it under her arm like a soft toy or a handbag. In lending herself to such an illustrated illustration of Freudian doctrine, Louise Bourgeois embraces the father of psychoanalysis, but also refers to the ritual paternal jest associated with peeling oranges, i.e. the mortifying representation of Louise deprived of a phallic attribute.(15)
Is the infamous Mapplethorpe photograph of Fillette (1982, cat. 250) the way that we want to remember Louise Bourgeois? Can’t the little silhouette lead us to see the other sculpted big "little girl" differently, remarking materiality versus monumentality, for example. Fillette (Sweeter Version) (1968-99) (16)) is made of plaster covered with latex, a poured liquid that becomes a kind of skin as it dries. Mapplethorpe’s picture deprives Fillette of its physicality in order to give the organ (a penis) a symbolic function (that of the Phallus): it is consequently held under the arm as a looted trophy (Bourgeois is then staged as a castrating mother/wife) or carried in the arms by a Louise Bourgeois posing as a post-modern Madonna(17) (the so-called Kleinian "good mother"). As for the monkey fur coat she is wearing, it of course overpowers the tactile quality of Fillette’s skin. It seems to me that the artist allowed a repetition from the past: a fillette robbed of her skin. . . by a man, in a public and popular picture which, once censured by the Museum of Modern Art, was not long ago the postcard publicizing the exhibition at the Guggenheim.
The tangerine-skin silhouette was presented in the Guggenheim catalogue with the same neglect, cited to illustrate the various sculptural materials (from latex to fabric) which the artist used! A child, peeled alive in her father’s hands and mouth in a symbolic rendering of a new écorchée vive by her progenitor, is certainly not comparable to wood, plaster, marble or even latex. If there is a new medium which Bourgeois used, it’s her perception of herself as a child, woven and unraveled in emotion, as other works clearly demonstrate.
The importance of the orange-skin work is that it also leads us to question the significance of its installation at the Guggenheim, near the place that chief curator Nancy Spector chose to hang the Fillette: Destruction of the Father (1974, cat. 95). The suspended latex penis mirrors some plastic qualities with the body parts placed on the table seemingly surrounded by the tooth shapes of an immense red-lit metaphoric mouth. The hanging hooks or rings holding the slabs of meat are exactly the same as those used in the "sweet" version of Fillette. Whose body parts are being served for dinner? The double genitive of the title Fillette: Destruction of the Father could be understood very differently from what is usually assumed, referring not so much to the father’s own destruction (by the "huge vagina dentata," as Storr imagines) as to the destruction he brings to the dinner table when, before eating the orange, he exhibits the body of the artist as embodied in the fruit he was to eat. Isn’t this interpretation implied in the bronze work exhibited in the proximity of The Destruction of the Father, that is Rabbit (1970, cat. 221), another food offered as skinned?
3. Birth or death?
The feminists took me as a role model, as a mother. It bothers me. I am not interested in being a mother. I am still a girl trying to understand myself.
I insist on the importance of the sewing of the orange skin because this "episode" is more than a protest against an "immodest, mocking father who held the female species in contempt."(18) The artist knew perfectly well that the father was enacting something entirely different from the so-called "lack" of her gender. The violence which Bourgeois draws upon in her work is much more radical. A shape of a little girl coming to light, revealing itself from the opening of a skin, is the demonstration of a birth, with the father superseding the mother in a gesture that stains and perverts the scene of her coming to the world. The father does more than simply say: "oh too bad, nothing between her legs, it’s a girl": he fosters a deception (or projects his own). That long white core that he is manipulating while exhibiting the anatomy of his ideal daughter (an organ which Louise obviously did not have since she was not born as a hermaphrodite) is not a penis, but an umbilical cord. This explains why, in her retelling of her story to her assistant Jerry Gorovoy, the tangerine became a "navel" orange: "the interior of the navel then becomes the figure’s penis" [my emphasis].(19)
In Louise Bourgeois: Drawings and Observations (20), the artist described the image in its anatomical incoherence: "And then when he pulled the skin off the orange, we saw there was something between the legs, something prominent and definitely masculine protruding from the navel." The violence exerted by the father’s gesture and his "sick heart" goes beyond the denial of her femininity: it challenges the reality of her birth, a topic that has been largely addressed by Bourgeois late in her career. Let us remember the roughly sewn fabric sculptures that depict the delivery of a child, presented in the Paris and London retrospective but unfortunately absent in New York: Do Not Abandon Me (1999, cat. 165), The Reticent Child (1999, cat. 166, and 2003, cat. 229), The Woven Child (1999, cat. 167). Instead of these scenes of nativity (recall that Bourgeois stresses she was born on Christmas Day), the American curator favored fabric works that represent copulating couples. One has to remember the numerous red gouache drawings made in the summer of 2007, focusing on the mother/infant relationship shown for the first time in the Royal Botanic Garden of Inverleigh (Edinbourgh, Scotland).(21)
Let’s hear Bourgeois’ voice again. She confided to her assistant Gorovoy that the peeling of the orange was a game played among soldiers, a joke shared among men, gathered in the trenches(22) during the First World War. When the joke was brought from the trenches into the heart of the family, the dinner table, with the daughter taking the role of the "woman" publicly undressed among men, the sexual violence was aggravated, as the enactment of the joke was made in presence of a "real" child, worse, the daughter herself. The trenches, or tranchées, were of course a literal cut, an opening in the dirt, in which the soldiers protected themselves or died. The tranchées relate to war, and they relate to home, to a locus that speaks to Bourgeois (given the importance of houses, lairs, and nests in her work).(23)
The verb trancher (to cut) is constitutive of different works through the presence of a paper cutter above the arched body of Cell III (1991), or of a guillotine (also called "Louise" in French) above the family house in Cell (Choisy) (1990-93, cat. 3) "to demonstrate that people destroy themselves within the family, to show that cruelty is not only an effect of the past -- the past guillotined by the present -- but that guillotine is also a work within the family."(24) Some sharp paternal humor can be devastating; Trancher la tête is a beheading enacted in different sculptures such as Arch of Hysteria (1993, cat. 28), The She-fox (1985), Nature Study (1984-94, cat. 173) and many couples (Couple I, 1996, cat. 85, Couple IV, 1997, cat. 86).
For all these reasons, the tangerine-skin silhouette originally cut in the Tranchées belongs to the esthetic logic of the work. The site of war adds to its meaning and places the gender difference in a morbid setting. The replacement of the female sex by an artificial penis of course expresses a castration complex which regards the female sex as wounded or cut. The association of the vagina to the trenches was made by a poet whom Bourgeois admired, Apollinaire, in the Poèmes secrets. Penises are part of this lot. Tombs are the ideal site for their depiction. In Cornand’s film, Bourgeois shows a picture of the family album in which her father poses in Algeria near a tomb engraved with a big phallus.
4. "I am inhabited by needles"
The destruction of the woman and of the birth of a girl by the father, to which the mother’s weird collection of tapestry scraps add numerous samples of mutilation, is also addressed in the sculptures femme couteau (1982, cat. 124) and femme pieu (1970, "woman stake," cat. 132), which I referenced earlier for its meaning of "bed." Polysemic, pieu is also a stake. It is not that the vengeful artist pictures womanhood as a sharp tool, faithful to the aggressive, castrating woman the artist has been portrayed as. If the viewer looks at the work Femme couteau before reading its title, he or she will remark on the softness of the feminine shape, as well as the tenderness of the pink marble; nothing "tranchant" -- cutting, as with the guillotine -- here.
That’s why Storr, who sees this work as the "epitome of the phallic female," has to go far into the past to recall the actual appearance of archaic stone blades. "Its color suggests flesh. The marble in many of my recent pieces relates to flesh,"(25) says the artist. To Xavier Tricot, Bourgeois explained that (p. 16): "The Femme couteau (woman knife) is the pregnant woman who defends herself. The femme couteau is the pregnant woman who defends her child. Who defends her unborn child." This figure is not extraneous to the tangerine-skin collage/bas-relief cut out by the razor blade of the father. It negates the birth of the simulacra of his daughter by suggesting a misleading penis, instead of the navel there was to see.
Like Femme couteau, Femme pieu’s shape and material (a brownish red wax) are soft as well, but bristled with two types of needles. The thinner, smaller needles are common ones, whereas the longer curved one, in the exact shape of that monumentalized in Needle (fuseau), is called une aiguille à canevas, à tapisserie. It is the needle that is used for the tapestry stitch. That same needle also appears in Mother and Child (1970 cat. 175(26)). Again, it is higher than the others (used to sew or mend), which are stuck into the right leg of the mother firgure, or the colored pins pricking her head. The child is not held by his mother’s arms but rests on her lap. The upright needle stands out and attracts our gaze in contrast to the absent gaze of the mother toward her child. Absent, because her face has been smoothed by the sculptor’s hand, and has no traits, no expression at all. The right hand of the mother seems crippled, the child abandoned. The notion of the so-called mending of the needles and the false protective mother figure claimed in interviews and writings is strongly contradicted by the sculptures themselves. The knife is like butter in contrast to the terrible clues of the death of the child which the needles point out.
5. "Please let me breathe."
Louise Bourgeois died a few weeks ago, and long, long ago. Social ceremonies of anniversary and memorial forget this reality much too often. Louise Bourgeois’ work can be seen as testimony to the death stigmatized in the tangerine skin. In Blue Days and Pink Days, near the reproduction of Femme pieu, one finds the following comment by Bourgeois: "If you are inhabited with needles, stakes and knives, you are very handicapped to be a self-perceptive creature. . . . The battle is fought at the terror level which precedes anything sexual."(27)
Louise Bourgeois is consistent and very firm in her denial of sexuality and eroticism in her interviews, and I tend to believe that her work erects a citadel against this reality. I can’t help reading the word "inhabited," which she uses, without immediately perceiving the promiscuous house forced into her psyche: forced, not chosen (choisi/Choisy) and sculpted under a guillotine in 1990-93. She certainly used the art of sculpture as a means to attempt to make herself fully at home; as much as possible.
Cells and all kinds of habitats abound. Commenting on the "Femme maison (which is not "housewife," femme à la maison, but rather "woman house"), Robert Storr rightfully remarks that the "exterior wall doubles as a constraining pillory or a straitjacket but also as an insufficiently protective carapace." Did Louise Bourgeois create in order to mend herself a carapace? I seriously doubt that. Instead, she created from within the defective carapace and affirmed it in her Spiders, these creatures which just occupy a corner, a small part of a house, and which are all but fleshy.
Although they are called maman, they hardly evoke a mother. It is well known that Maman is the title of one of them. Furthermore these skeletal gigantic bugs seem flayed. Since Spider (1997, cat. 260) holds its eggs wrapped in tapestry fabrics, it is not a nurturing mother figure, but more a mother to be. In Cornand’s film C’est le murmure de l’eau qui chante, Bourgeois acknowledges their protective quality for adults, not children. The spider protects from mosquitoes, and thus AIDS, she comments. Although AIDS cannot be spread by mosquitoes (and was certainly not discussed in the ‘50s), Bourgeois further explains in an interview published in the Beaubourg catalogue Louise Bourgeois: Sculptures, environnements, dessins (1938-1995) that during her trips in Africa (in the ‘50s), she discovered that it was "commonly believed that mosquitoes were propagating malaria, as well as AIDS,"(28) and says: "the subject of Spider concerns more the terror of mosquitoes, of AIDS, and infection than the spider itself. It is a defense against Evil. The eternal battle between good and evil. It is omnipresent. Evil is really AIDS. The other metaphor is that the spider represents the mother."(29) This mother is then presented as a metaphor of the spinner, with the expected qualities of mending. The point is that the mother’s protection is more directed to an adult whose sexuality, if struck down by AIDS, will endanger his or her progeny."(30)
Of course Louise’ spiders produce no web, and the artist only bits of threads in stuck needles, in line with tattered remains of tapestries. She follows the mother who handled tapestries which were "torn apart with big holes in it and destroyed."(31) A mother who was not a maman (a mommy), she confides, which is why I resist so much this image of Louise Bourgeois as a mother figure. Her mother was not a caring mother but an "intellectual" mother, she keeps repeating. Hence the defective envelopes presented as found objects, not produced by the mother. "Gobelins tapestries, out of fashion and discarded, were saved because in the colder climate of Aubusson they were used to wrap animals in -- protection for a cow giving birth, and blankets for the horse."(32) Tapestries used to protect the mother, I insist, not the child.
The first tapestry the father brought to his wife was destined for a horse, not to wrap a newborn. "This is how he found the first tapestry: he saw a horse in a barn, covered with part of an old tapestry, and he brought the scrap back to my mother.(33)
Louise Bourgeois, "mother-of-us-all" (Linda Nochlin, Storr), or a daughter’s artistic testimony which helps us to reflect on us as a daughter, or parent or spouse of one? I hope her death will make us reread her texts. She wrote that in the early years of her marriage she had the inner "hysteric" belief that she did not "have the right to have children," which led her to adopt her first son Michel.(34) She adds: "I was not able to procreate. And it was a trauma [. . .] The fear of not having children made me hysterical."(35) Creation, as in all 19th-century French novels, is not modeled on procreation but death. Sterility, at the core of her work, is also attached to the geographical origin of her mother, the Creuse, which means "hollow" in French, and whose particularities define the Aubusson industry. See the depiction of the area: "This is a landscape that is very close to me. It is from the Creuse Valley in France, which is deserted and sterile. It is so cold and the earth is so ungrateful and poor, there is little agriculture. All the women became weavers -- that is why Aubusson was there [. . .]."(36)
Not that Louise ever wished for a Big Mother who could have protected her mother from the Spanish flu which ripped her from the earth (despite of all the care the daughter provided), or herself from the evil father. In 1982, at the time of the opening of her first retrospective, 26 years before the second and last retrospective at the Guggenheim, Louise Bourgeois revealed in Artforum the affair of the mistress (whom the father installed in her family) and she wrote what passed absolutely unnoticed by the critics: "my mother tolerated it. Why? That is the mystery. [. . .] Actually you, mother, are using me to keep track of your husband. This is child abuse."(37) It is firmly said that the mother, whom Louise suddenly addresses directly, did not protect her daughter from the abuse. It is through this accusation that Louise Bourgeois denounces the abuse. The father accusation is benign in contrast.
The needle which Bourgeois needs so much to prick in her work is not the mending tool of the mother. Scissors are more like her. One of the cruelest drawings by Bourgeois, Untitled (1986),(38) represents two pairs of scissors, one above the other, one bigger that the other, but connected by a very short thread. The accompanying legend by the artist is that it should have been called the umbilical cord.(39) The birth and connection to the mother are represented by the tool that separates the mother from the child. The father did not help, he who could not stand to see navels for what they simply were.
Bourgeois is not exaggerating when she speaks of her traumatized childhood. She was cut alive, when coming to the world: "When I was born my father and mother were fighting like cats and dogs. And the country was preparing for war, and my father who wanted a son, got me, and my sister had just died. Please let me breathe."(40)
Did she finally, at her last sigh?
FRÉDÉRIQUE JOSEPH-LOWERY is an art critic and independent curator. Her "Dali Dance and Beyond" appears at the Salvador Dali Museum in St. Petersburg, Fla., opening July 12, 2010. She can be reached at email@example.com
(1) See Louise Bourgeois, Destruction of the Father. Reconstruction of the Father. Writings and Interviews 1923-1997, edited by Marie-Laure Bernadac and Hans-Ulrich Obrist, MIT Press, 2000 , p. 263. It will be abbreviated as Dest.
(2) See Marie-Laure Bernadac, Louise Bourgeois, Flammarion, 1996. I refer to this book by the name of the author.
(3) Shown at the Sackler Center for Arts Education (Guggenheim).
(4) Robert Storr, "A Sketch for a Portrait," Louise Bourgeois, Phaidon, 2003, p. 53.
(5) Bernadac, p. 29-32.
(6) Bernadac, p. 114.
(7) William Rubin, "Louise Bourgeois: One and Others," Louise Bourgeois, New York, Museum of Modern Art, 1982
(8) The counterpart of Needle (fuseau) is Poids (Weight, 1990), in which a gigantic nail is curved like the needle. The two cracked wooden spheres on the floor (surrounding the needle) become suspended glass balls halfway filled with a blue liquid (amniotic fluid, according to Bourgeois). The presence of the balls suggests a phallic ghost, but can also simply be understood as a sign of fertility. See The Locus of Memory. Works 1982-1993, Brooklyn Museum, 1994, cat. 34.
(9) Contrary to the museum description of the work, the metallic rods sticking out of Woman Stake are not pins (except two placed to frame the breasts), but needles. This distinction is important to Bourgeois: "When I was growing up, all the women in my house were using needles. I’ve always had a fascination with the needle, the magic power of the needle. The needle is used to repair damage. It’s a claim to forgiveness. It is never aggressive, it’s not a pin." in Dest. p. 222.
(10) Dest. p. 321 in Ode à ma mère.
(11) This "verse" of a progressive linguistic unveiling is quoted in the American film and has been published in Drawings and Observations, a book by Louise Bourgeois with Lawrence Rinder, Berkeley, 1995, p. 242. The accompanying drawing is dated 1950.
(12) The event is significant enough that it provides the title of the documentary Louise Bourgeois: The Spider the Mistress and the Tangerine.
(13) The picture of the orange peel from the Guggenheim (Gorovoy’s collection) presents one silhouette showing the inside of the skin. The image composed of two sewn silhouettes, one forward, the other reversed, is reproduced in Bernadac’s book, p. 132. The work belongs to the Karsten Greve Gallery, Köln.
(14) Both in Louise Bourgeois: Memory and Architecture (p. 54) and Bernadac’s book (1996) (p. 132)). Louise Bourgeois. Drawings and Observations, p. 164-5.
(15) See "Louise Bourgeois: Woman At Work" in Louise Bourgeois. Memory and Architecture, Nov 1999- Feb. 2000, p. 54.
(16) The reproduction of Fillette in the exhibition catalogue is not the piece exhibited at the Guggenheim (which shows an S hook) but belongs to the MoMA collection. The piece comparable to the slabs of meat in Destruction of the Father belongs to a Greek collection (Dimitris Daskalopoulos). A photograph of the early, tougher version with the butcher hook is illustrated along with Bourgeois’ famous confession of the family trauma in Artforum in 1982
(17) The sheet of photographs is reproduced in Louise Bourgeois and Jerry Gorovoy, Blue Days and Pink Days, Fondazione Prada, 1997, p. 169.
(18) Bernadac, p. 132.
(19) Interview with Jerry Gorovoy, 1990, quoted in the Guggenheim catalogue p. 168.
(20) p. 165.
(21) This exhibition (May 3-July 6, 2008) "brings together recent works on paper by the American sculptor Louise Bourgeois and botanical teaching diagrams made in the mid-19th century (by various artists) for John Hutton Balfour (1808-1884)." For a review of the show, see Duncan Macmillan, "Blood Ties," in Modern Painters. The International Contemporary Magazine (May 2008).
(22) The detail of the trenches is mentioned in the film Louise Bourgeois by Camille Guichard (1993), which Bernadac quotes in her book (1996, p. 132): "It’s a game that my father learned in the trenches, and that he often played with us at the table, after meals, with an orange peel." It is not mentioned in Bourgeois’ book Drawings and Observations (1999), or in the interview with Gorovoy (1990) quoted by the Guggenheim catalogue. It seems that Bourgeois only gave this detail to the French director.
(23) On this topic see Bernadac, chapter Sites of Memory, p. 122.
(24) Dest., p. 248. I will add that one of the meanings of cell in French evokes the family: la cellule familiale. It is surprising that Bourgeois does not mention that understanding.
(25) Dest. p. 238.
(26) Mother and Child was absent from the Guggenheim retrospective, but was shown in Paris and London.
(27) Blue Days and Pink Days, p. 136.
(28) Louise Bourgeois: Sculptures, environnements, dessins (1938-1995), by Louise Bourgeois, Musée d’art Moderne de la ville de Paris, 23 juin-8 octobre 1995, p. 15 [my translation].
(29) Ibid, p. 15 [my translation]. Bourgeois adds that her son was very afraid of mosquitoes (and was certainly not discussed in the '. Mosquitoes are heavily represented in her Insomnia Drawings (1994-5).
(30) p. 11.
(31) Dest. p. 143.
(32) Dest., p. 89.
(33) Dest. p. 118.
(34) Dest. p. 160.
(35) Dest. p. 124-5.
(36) Louise Bourgeois and Lawrence Rinder, Louise Bourgeois: Drawings and Observations, Berkeley, 1995, p. 108.
(37) p. 80 in the Guggenheim catalogue. Bourgeois’ text was first published in Artforum, December 1982, vol. 20, no. 4, pp. 40-47, at the time of her retrospective at MoMA.
(38) This drawing was first published in Drawings and Observations, p. 139. A variant of the red version called Scissors belongs to the Tate collection. It is part of a portfolio of 14 etchings collectively titled "Autobiographical Series."
(39) This drawing was first published in Drawings and Observations, p. 139. A vVariant of the red version called Scissors belongs to the Tate collection. It is part of a portfolio of 14 etchings collectively titled Autobiographical series.
(40) Dest., p. 364.