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louise bourgeois

Louise Bourgeois
Louise Bourgeois was born in Paris in 1911. She studied art at various schools there, including the Ecole du Louvre, Académie des Beaux-Arts, Académie Julian, and Atelier Fernand Léger. In 1938, she emigrated to the United States and continued her studies at the Art Students League in New York. Though her beginnings were as an engraver and painter, by the 1940s she had turned her attention to sculptural work, for which she is now recognized as a twentieth-century leader. Greatly influenced by the influx of European Surrealist artists who immigrated to the United States after World War II, Bourgeois’s early sculpture was composed of groupings of abstract and organic shapes, often carved from wood. By the 1960s she began to execute her work in rubber, bronze, and stone, and the pieces themselves became larger, more referential to what has become the dominant theme of her work—her childhood. She has famously stated“My childhood has never lost its magic, it has never lost its mystery, and it has never lost its drama.” Deeply symbolic, her work uses her relationship with her parents and the role sexuality played in her early family life as a vocabulary in which to understand and remake that history. The anthropomorphic shapes her pieces take—the female and male bodies are continually referenced and remade—are charged with sexuality and innocence and the interplay between the two. Bourgeois’s work is in the collections of most major museums around the world. She lives in New York.


Cell (Glass Spheres and Hands)
"Cell (Glass Spheres and Hands)" is one of several freestanding sculptural installations by Louise Bourgeois. The title "Cell" can refer to the most basic building block of a living organism or a prison. Bourgeois' Cells combine aspects of both definitions, pairing the organic with the correctional. Matching used perfume bottles, vanity mirrors, model homes, and excised limbs with steel fencing, broken furniture, a guillotine, and a mechanical saw, each composition employs domestic and institutional elements to tell a story. In "Cell (Glass Spheres and Hands)," two fragmented marble arms rest on a fabric covered table. With hands clasped in a gesture of prayer, the isolated arms appear to be soft and vulnerable in spite of their rock-hard substance. Encircling the table are five glass spheres of different sizes, each resting on its own worn chair. Each enclosed sphere is like a bubble, self-contained but fragile in its existence. The chairs and spheres face the table in a united front, cornering and further isolating the hands. The work plays with relationships such as teacher/student and parent/child. In an arrangement that is reminiscent of a family gathering or classroom situation, "Cell (Glass Spheres and Hands)" invests inanimate objects with human qualities by enacting a drama in space.

Allusive and open to interpretation, Bourgeois' "Cells" are places for uneasy contemplation. The steel and glass walls enclosing each work protect the objects inside, but also restrict them from ever escaping. Like a prison, the caged walls enforce a rigid form of solitude while offering only partial views of the outside world. In "Cell (Glass Spheres and Hands)," glass panels obscure the objects within, forcing viewers to peer through a grid of spaces where a window has been knocked out or shattered. A tension is established between the desire to look into the freestanding room and the real possibility of hurting oneself on a glass shard while doing so. By placing one's body in danger in order to look at the work, a visceral connection is made between the body of the viewer and the fragile, organic quality of the objects within. As carnal as it is symbolic, Bourgeois explains that "the 'Cells' represent different types of pain: the physical, the emotional and the psychological, and the mental and intellectual. When does the emotional become the physical? When does the physical become the emotional? It's a circle going round and round. Pain can begin at any point and turn in either direction."

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