The Shape of An Answer
The mythical 20th century artist Louise Bourgeois is an emblem of feminism. By focusing on her engraved work, the MBAL reveals a more intimate side of the artist, who is best known for her sculptures, particularly her monumental spiders. More than 50 engravings, dating from the 1940s to 2010, offer a unique insight into the artist’s creative process. The body, motherhood, the couple and transidentity are recurring themes for Bourgeois, which are presented in this exhibition.
Louise Bourgeois has explored printmaking in all its forms since the beginning of her career. As a medium that quickly became indispensable to the artist, she devoted herself to it during two distinct periods: when she moved to New York in 1938, she printed her plates on a small press at home while raising her children. Then, from 1988, she met specialist printers and publishers and undertook major printing projects, collaborations and commissions. Often produced as series, her numerous engravings reveal an intimate and endearing aspect that presents itself like stories, and allows one to follow her creative process. She favours the burin or the dry point, gradually abandoning the aquatint. Her line, sharp and implacable, delimits her engravings on a refined background. In addition to engraving, textile and needlework, which harks back to her childhood period when she was responsible for repairing tapestries to help her parents, Bourgeois has also illustrated texts, starting with her own. Throughout her life, the artist was a prolific writer, especially during her period undergoing psychoanalysis (1950-60). Her simple, poetic and often autobiographical writing characterises her “pensées plume” and echoes her attraction to the power of language when associated with images. Bourgeois describes her relationship to art as a therapy, a struggle against trauma and anxiety that is only alleviated by her production. She exorcises her past and suffering by using her childhood memories as creative material and deals with gender issues and universal themes such as sex, anxiety, death, loneliness and pain. She openly acknowledges her vulnerability, accepts it as a goal that feeds her work and gives form to her suffering. This entangled dependence marks the singularity of Bourgeois, whose phrase has become famous: “Art is a guarantee of mental health”.
The exhibition is made possible thanks to the generous loans of public and private collections from Switzerland and France : Galerie Lelong (Paris), Fondation Beyeler (Basel), Musée Jenisch (Vevey), Musée d’Art et d’Histoire (Geneva). The exhibition is curated by Séverine Cattin, associate curator of the MBAL.
Louise Bourgeois, The Maternal Man, 2008, Archival dyes printed on cloth, 26.6 x 20.3 cm. Photo: Christopher Burke © The Easton Foundation / 2021, ProLitteris, Zurich