For the love of Louise: Iconic artist Louise Bourgeois spotlights 50 works

Louise Bourgeois is one of the most outstanding and radical artists of the 20th and 21st centuries.

Artist Louise Bourgeois's 'The Couple'.  (photo credit: ELAD SARIG)
Artist Louise Bourgeois's 'The Couple'.
(photo credit: ELAD SARIG)
A passion project more than three years in the making, the Tel Aviv Museum of Art’s new flagship exhibition, “Twosome,” is Israel’s first-ever major retrospective of Frenchborn American artist Louise Bourgeois (1911-2010). Co-curated by Suzanne Landau, director of museum, and Jerry Gorovoy, longtime assistant and close friend of Bourgeois, the exhibit includes more than 50 evocative works by the legendary multimedia artist.
Landau sat down with The Jerusalem Post to discuss the importance of Bourgeois’s work and how this exhibit came to fruition at the Tel Aviv Museum of Art.
While Bourgeois is internationally renowned for her contributions to modern and contemporary art, she is relatively unknown to the Israeli audience. In your words, who is Louise Bourgeois?
Louise Bourgeois is one of the most outstanding and radical artists of the 20th and 21st centuries. She was born in Paris to a family in the business of restoring tapestries from the Middle Ages and the Renaissance, and I think this is an important aspect of her work. Even as a very young girl, Bourgeois helped out in her family’s workshop. She drew the parts of the tapestries that were missing, because she had the remarkable ability to draw.
It is amazing to see how so many details from her youth she remembered, and not just those pertaining to her family history. She remembered them so well and then they took shape as a subject or object in her work.
You can see how deeply she understood textiles; in her late works she started to use all kinds of fabrics, even her own dresses, underwear, blankets or napkins, but the way she treated them can be done only by someone who is so closely familiar with these materials. Bourgeois did amazingly tactile works.
Are there any examples of this in the exhibition?
Yes, for example her soft sculptures. Bourgeois didn’t make any preparatory drawings for them, she just took blankets and stuffing materials and started to stitch and just put them together. It was her creativity that was bursting out. She knew what she was going to create, or perhaps she didn’t know exactly, but regardless, this was her process and this is what came out of it.
Was Louise Bourgeois American or French?
She was born in Paris, but lived most of her life in the United States. She was absolutely fluent in both French and English, but she always had a French accent. Even so, she was eloquent in both languages, but if she had the opportunity to speak to someone in French she was grateful. She wrote a lot – all the time. She kept diaries all her life. She wrote in English interwoven with French. She lived in the United States and her artistic career started there, but the French connection was very dear to her throughout her whole life.
Why should people know her work?
First of all, Louise Bourgeois created an exceptional body of work. Her voice is so unique and so courageous, touching on subjects like sexuality and relationships. Relationships or duality can be seen throughout her oeuvre whether it is the relation between mother and child, feminine and masculine, figurative or abstract, inside or out.
Bourgeois’s artistic career spanned more than seven decades; she was very prolific, creating an enormous body of work. She constantly managed to reinvent herself – it is quite phenomenal – from the very beginning, until the very end, when she died at the age of 98.
For example, the series of cells that she started in 1991 that I was fortunate enough to see when they were displayed for the first time at the Carnegie Museum of Art in Pittsburgh. It was a really groundbreaking approach to sculpture and installation, and included her own sculpture combined with ready-mades and objects she found. She put them together in those enclosures, all imbued with her memories.
Bourgeois once said that her memories were her documents, and she was able to transform them – her fears and her emotions – into three-dimensional forms, which made her work vulnerable and autobiographical, but at the same time universal.
Are her works still relevant?
Any good artist is always relevant. I think Bourgeois is even more so now. When she was alive, she didn’t want to be labeled as a feminist artist; however, many of the issues she brought up through her work are at the forefront of today’s discussions. I think this is one of the reasons why her work is so appreciated and so important today.
How did this exhibition come to the Tel Aviv Museum of Art?
I have followed her work for many years, and have seen numerous exhibitions in venues around the globe, and naturally I have always wanted to curate an exhibition of Bourgeois. But I was also aware that it would be a huge undertaking. Thus, we considered joining forces with an international institution to create an exhibition of Bourgeois, but at the end it didn’t work out and we decided to do our own exhibition.
It was the co-curator of the exhibition – Jerry Gorovoy – who was the assistant and close friend of Bourgeois for more than 30 years, that the Tel Aviv Museum of Art has been able to realize this exhibition. You cannot do an exhibition of Bourgeois without Gorovoy, not only because he is the president of the foundation [that administers her estate] and part of the Louise Bourgeois studio, but because of the immense information and insight he has. He is the only person with all of this knowledge, and he was a driving force behind this comprehensive survey.
How is TAMA’s exhibition different?
It is different because the subject of relationships and duality is one that has not been explored in other exhibitions of Bourgeois to such an extent. Also, this exhibition includes some works that were never shown before and others that were very rarely shown, like Twosome, which is the central piece here. It is a monumental sculpture that has been shown perhaps three times since it was created in 1991.
Why “Twosome”?
The whole concept of the exhibition is about relationships. “Twosome” is about relationships, and it influenced the choices of all works in the show. The work called Twosome is the only piece by Bourgeois that is kinetic.
Bourgeois considered this work as a relationship between mother and child, with the two huge tanks connected by a chain-like umbilical cord, showing how a mother and child can never detach. However, I feel very strongly that it is also a sexual relation between a male and female, and compared it with Marcel Duchamp and Francis Picabia, both of whom also used the machine imagery as a metaphor for sexual relations. •
“Twosome” is on show through January 20, 2018. Additional information can be found at