When French-born American artist Louise Bourgeois died after a heart attack in New York City on June 1st, obituary writers were clearly ready. After all, she was 98 years old. (Born on Christmas in Paris in 1911, Bourgeois had her first solo show -- twelve paintings -- in 1945.) Even so, her last exhibition -- "Fabric Works," sculptures of her signature spiders woven from ribbons -- opened four days later (last Friday) in the Italian city of Venice at the Fondazione Vedova. Last summer Bourgeois was also inducted into the Women's Hall of Fame in nearby Seneca Falls along with noted local feminist attorney Karen DeCrow, and in 2009 she also enjoyed a retrospective at the Hirshhorn in Washington, DC.
Bourgeois' death might now hasten Netflix to stop dawdling and add the wonderful documentary about her by filmmaker Marion Cajori and art historian Amei Wallach, which has been out on DVD for the past year. Cajori, who died in 2006 before the film's completion, also made well-respected films about the artists Joan Mitchell and Chuck Close. Wallach was able to finish the film in time to premiere in New York City in June 2008, two days before the opening of a full-career retrospective of Bourgeois' work at the Guggenheim.
This film was made over 14 years, assembled from some 190 interviews, vintage footage and photographs, and more recent interviews with Bourgeois' long-time assistant, Jerry Gorovoy, and her middle son, Jean-Louis. There are also key curators and commentators, all of whom have themselves published work on Bourgeois, as has Gorovoy himself. Carlotta Kotik was curator of the US Pavilion at the 1993 Venice Biennale, where Bourgeois was the first woman to represent to US with her room -- she called them "cells" -- housing the arresting "Arch of Hysteria" sculpture, a woman's legs and torso bent backward in spasm. Writer and curator Robert Storr, former dean of the Yale School of Art, knew Bourgeois well before her marriage to the American art historian Robert Goldwater (who pioneered our understanding of primitive art, took Bourgeois out of war-time France and introduced her to the Manhattan art scene on the 1940s that included Peggy Guggenheim, exiled French Surrealists whom she did not like and later, Abstract Expressionists, whom she did, and dealers such as Leo Castelli, himself now the subject of a new biography). Deborah Wye met Bourgeois in 1976 and, as chief curator of prints at MoMA New York, engineered the first major retrospective by a woman - Bourgeois - at MoMA; this was in 1982, when Bourgeois was 71 years old. Frances Morris was curator at the Tate Modern in London when, for its inaugural exhibition at the turn of the Millennium, that museum unveiled Bourgeois' massive, mirror-hung three-tower installation, "I Do/I Und0/I Redo."