On the occasion of her retrospective exhibition at the Museum of Modern Art in 1982, Louise Bourgeois published a photo essay in Artforum magazine that revealed the impact of childhood trauma on her art. “Everything I do,” she exclaimed, “was inspired by my early life.” Born in 1911, Bourgeois grew up in provincial France, using her nascent artistic skills to assist with the family’s tapestry-restoration business. At age eleven, she witnessed her father’s betrayal of his wife and three children when he initiated a ten-year affair with their live-in English tutor. During this period, Bourgeois also attended to her mother, who had succumbed to the Spanish Flu after the First World War. This familial triangle of sexual infidelity and illness cast the young artist in the most inappropriate of roles—as voyeur, accomplice, and nurturer—the combination of which left her with life-long psychic scars. Bourgeois’s diaries, which she has kept assiduously since 1923, indicate the tensions between rage, fear of abandonment, and guilt that she has suffered since childhood. It is through her art, however, that she has been able to channel and release these tensions. In Bourgeois’s universe, art is a recuperative practice; it can invoke and heal the deepest emotional wounds. With this understanding, it is impossible to consider her richly symbolic oeuvre independently from the story of her life, which is documented in this exhibition with photographs, journals, and identification cards from her personal archives. A selection of images provides an overview of Bourgeois’s biography, illustrating the many intersecting and overlapping roles she has played, including venturesome student, dutiful daughter, loving wife and mother, and maverick artist whose work is ever contemporary and relevant to the times.
—Nancy Spector, Chief Curator
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