Louise Bourgeois: The Woven Child (in context)

Louise Bourgeois, The Woven Child (detail), 2002, fabric, wood, glass, and steel, 70 x 35 x 21 inches (fabric element); 70 x 35 x 21 inches (vitrine), Stoddard Acquisition Fund, 2005.284, Photo: Christopher Burke

Through February 25, 2007

At 95, Louise Bourgeois, who has been making art since the 1940s, continues to be one of the most innovative and influential artists of our time (she has been referred to as “the oldest of young artists”). Her career has spanned Surrealism, Abstract Expressionism, feminist art and installation art, but her work always has remained distinct from any singular style or movement. Over the years, Bourgeois experimented with a range of materials (including marble, plaster, bronze, wood, and latex). In the late 1990s, she embarked on what has become an extraordinary body of sculptural and two-dimensional works in fabric.

This late-in-life chapter of her career is especially significant because it brings Bourgeois back to her original aesthetic impulse-working with textiles. At the age of 12 she began working at her mother's side in the family business restoring Medieval and Renaissance tapestries in Antony, France. The young Bourgeois assumed the role of ‘dessinateur,’ redrawing the sections of the missing parts of the antique tapestries, which would then be rewoven.

The Worcester exhibition focuses on a group of Bourgeois' fabric figures and books (from 1996-2004), and includes the U.S. premiere of a major fabric sculpture, The Woven Child (2002), recently acquired by the Museum. The project introduces what is new in this artist's prolific career while it also demonstrates the continued relevance of textiles to Bourgeois. Cloth remnants recycled into figures, columns, and books, have become an ideal medium for recovering and exorcising aspects of her childhood and family life.

Although rooted in her lived (and gendered) experiences as daughter, wife, and mother, the content of Bourgeois' art is primarily archetypal and explores the psychological and emotional effects of human relations, the intimacies as well as the anxieties. In The Woven Child, Bourgeois reinterprets a subject found throughout the history of art—the mother and child. However, she consciously chose to construct the figures out of fabric (including remnants from garments, linens, and towels she owned), a fragile material not typically used for sculpture but laden with human associations such as warmth, intimacy, and vulnerability. In another departure from tradition, Bourgeois created a mother who is headless and limbless, a patchwork torso of crudely stitched scraps that neither embraces nor gazes upon the perfect little infant curled upon her chest. A glass and steel vitrine both protects and imprisons this vulnerable pair.

Bourgeois has said that she is “interested in the portraiture of a relationship…the effect people have on one another.” In The Woven Child, she engages a dialectics of self and other, estrangement and intimacy, awkwardness and tenderness, inadequacy and promise.

Bourgeois was born in Paris in 1911, and moved to New York City in 1938 where she has since lived and worked. She is the first woman to be given a retrospective at the Museum of Modern Art in New York (1982), and will be the subject of an internationally touring retrospective in 2007 being organized by Tate Modern in London. She is represented in New York by Cheim & Read.

See the Gallery Guide to learn more about this exhibition.

This exhibition is generously supported by the Don and Mary Melville Contemporary Art Fund. Other generous support provided by WICN Public Radio 90.5 FM, New England's Jazz & Folk Station and Worcester Magazine.


Related Events

Film: C'est le murmure de l'eau qui chante (2002)
During Museum Hours.
A portrait of Louise Bourgeois directed by Brigitte Cornand.

Gallery Talk
Thursday, January 18, 6:30PM
Join Susan Stoops, Curator of Contemporary Art, for a walkthrough of the exhibition. Free with Museum admission.

Gallery Talk and Reception: Judith Solodkin
Sunday, January 28, 2:00PM
Judith Solodkin, Master Printer & Founder of Solo Impression, New York, talks about printing Louise Bourgeois' fabric and color lithograph book, Ode à l'oubli. Free with Museum admission.

Select Images from the Exhibition