Louise Bourgeois: Illustrated Books

April 25–June 9, 2001

The first exhibition to assemble the illustrated books of Louise Bourgeois (b. 1911) will open to the public this month at the Miriam and Ira D. Wallach Art Gallery at Columbia University.

Entitled Louise Bourgeois: Illustrated Books, the exhibition brings into focus not only the artist's stylistic and thematic concerns but also her writing. Incorporating both her own texts and those of other authors, the illustrated books span the length of the artist’s career from the 1940s to the present. The works are on loan from public and private collections in New York.

Best known for her sculpture, Bourgeois has also worked in the mediums of painting, drawing and printmaking over the course of her long and distinguished career. In all of these, the artist engages issues connected to autobiographical experiences: betrayal, familial relationships, sexuality, motherhood, abandonment and independence, control and the loss of control. Bourgeois first experimented with printmaking in the 1940s,and has actively pursued the medium during the last two decades. Her involvement with illustrated books closely parallels this interest, with an initial foray into the format in the late 1940s and a consistent engagement in the 1990s.

Since the age of twelve, Bourgeois has kept records and notes of her daily life, encounters, thoughts and emotions in three forms: a written diary, a spoken and recorded diary and a drawing diary. These diaries are often the source of the texts for her books, and also form the texts that she adapts into her work in other mediums.

The exhibition at the Wallach Gallery focuses on works for which Bourgeois created both the text and the mages, including the books the puritan and Ode à ma mère. Her earliest illustrated book, He Disappeared into Complete Silence, from 1947, will be on view. Representing her first major step in intaglio printmaking, the book includes nine engravings and short texts, which Bourgeois refers to as parables. Other editioned projects that are not traditional illustrated books but combine text and image by the artist, such as the portfolios The View from the Bottom of the Well and What is he Shape of This Problem? will be in the exhibition, along with collaborative books, such as Homely Girl with text by Arthur Miller and Metamorfosis by Maria Fluxa.

The curator of the exhibition is Sarah J.S.Suzuki, a graduate of Columbia University's Graduate School of Arts and Sciences, who wrote her master's thesis on prints and illustrated books by Louise Bourgeois. She is a cataloguer in the Department of Prints and Illustrated Books at the Museum of Modern Art, New York.

In conjunction with the exhibition, the gallery will publish an illustrated brochure including an essay by Suzuki.