The Heroic Louise Bourgeois
by Jerry Saltz
Robert Mapplethorpe’s iconic 1982 portrait of Louise Bourgeois, who died recently at 98, speaks volumes about Bourgeois’ free-spiritedness, grace, tenacity and the kinky perversity of her work. In it, the 71-year-old sculptress looks like a shaman seductress, one of Munch’s vampiric castration queens, a maker of voodoo dolls and a diva grandmother rolled into one. Under her arm she casually cradles her 23-inch long, seven-inch circumference latex-over-plaster sculpture of a phallus, Fillette
(1968). In French the term means "helpless little girl." While Bourgeois was no little girl, there’s something radically vulnerable about how she’s holding the work -- she almost seems to pull back the sculpture’s foreskin and give the thing a little tickle. Bourgeois said this gnarly abstract penis, with ovular testicles and a hook at the top, was "the shape of my husband, the shape of the children" (she had three sons). "I wanted to represent something I loved," she said. "I obviously loved representing a little penis." Little? Anyway, as Bourgeois later said, "It’s very complicated." Indeed it was. As she said, "I have nothing against the penis. It’s the wearer."