November 14, 2015

Louise Bourgeois, National Gallery of Art, Washington

Louise Bourgeois: No Exit
National Gallery of Art, Washington
November 15, 2015 - May 15, 2016

Evocative drawings, prints, and sculptures by Louise Bourgeois will be presented in the West Building of the National Gallery of Art from November 15, 2015 through May 15, 2016. The 21 works in the exhibition, either drawn from the collection or promised to the Gallery, reveal Bourgeois's intensely personal approach to art-making and explore her grounding in surrealism and ties to existentialism. Highlights include a vintage copy of He Disappeared into Complete Silence (1947), comprising nine engravings and nine disquieting parables; Germinal (1967), a strangely compelling marble sculpture; and M is for Mother (1998), a drawing of an imposing letter M that conveys not only maternal comfort but also maternal control.

"We are pleased to celebrate Louise Bourgeois in this compelling presentation," said Earl A. Powell III, director, National Gallery of Art. "The National Gallery of Art first acquired works by Bourgeois in 1992, when our Collectors Committee purchased and donated three of her early sculptures and a fourth was donated by the artist. Since then, especially in the last decade, our collection of works by Bourgeois has been enhanced mainly through generous gifts and pledges by Dian Woodner of New York and Tony Podesta of Washington, but also in last year's acquisition of an outstanding drawing from the Corcoran Gallery of Art."

Louise Bourgeois
Born to a prosperous Parisian family, French American Louise Bourgeois (1911–2010) first encountered the surrealists in France as a university student in the 1930s. After marrying the American art historian Robert Goldwater and moving to New York in 1938, she became reacquainted with the European surrealists who were exiled during the war. Surrealism informed her early endeavors as an artist, including her early prints, paintings, and drawings, as well as the human-size totemic sculptures for which she first gained renown. However, Bourgeois never identified with the male-dominated movement and bristled at critics who labeled her a surrealist. Instead, she self-identified as an existentialist, not only quoting philosopher Jean-Paul Sartre in interviews but also naming one of her sculptures after Sartre's play No Exit.

The National Gallery of Art owns 19 works by Bourgeois—drawings, prints, sculptures, and an illustrated book, the puritan (1990)—and five additional works have been promised to the Gallery. Collectively dating from the early 1940s to 1998, they include many rare and important pieces. Indeed, the Gallery's Bourgeois collection is distinguished not for its size but for its extraordinary quality. Bourgeois's monumental Spider (1996, cast 1997) is on view in the Gallery's Sculpture Garden.

Louise Bourgeois: No Exit: Exhibition Highlights
Louise Bourgeois: No Exit will present key early works, including three pen drawings (1947–1950) that evoke the cascading rivers and mountain peaks of Aubusson, the tapestry-producing region of France and home to Bourgeois's mother's family. Other highlights include the artist's psychologically charged print project, He Disappeared into Complete Silence (1947)—a work that signals the imagery and themes that would engage Louise Bourgeois until her death at age 98—and three of Bourgeois's totemic sculptures installed in a small, relatively enclosed space to faintly allude to the three souls of Sartre's play, No Exit, forced to co-exist in the same room in hell. Also on view are more recent works: the puritan (1990), an extraordinary book written and illustrated by Bourgeois, one of only a few copies hand-colored by the artist, and the drawing My Hand (1997), an image of the artist's knobby hand penned in striking red and splayed on a sheet of music paper.

The exhibition is organized by the National Gallery of Art, Washington.

Exhibition Curator: Judith Brodie, curator of modern prints and drawings, National Gallery of Art.

National Gallery of Art, Washington, DC