Memory Work: Louise Bourgeois

Exhibition Review

  • "Louise Bourgeois: An Unfolding Portrait"

  • Museum of Modern Art, New York
  • 24 Sep 2017 - 28 Jan 2018
  • Louise Bourgeois: An Unfolding Portrait—Prints, Books and the Creative Process

  • By Deborah Wye
  • 248 pages, 330 color and 27 black-and-white illustrations
  • Published by the Museum of Modern Art, New York, 2017
  • $55

Louise Bourgeois, plate 8 of 9 from the illustrated book Ode à Ma Mère (1995), drypoint, 30 x 30 cm. The Museum of Modern Art, New York. Gift of the artist. ©2017 The Easton Foundation/Licensed by VAGA, New York.

As curator for many years at the Museum of Modern Art’s Department of Prints and Illustrated Books, and eventually the department’s chief, Deborah Wye is well-known in the print world for the many landmark exhibitions she shepherded there. Perhaps her most profound contribution, however, was forged by her longstanding professional and personal relationship with Louise Bourgeois (1911–2010), whose career she helped boost in the early 1980s as the artist was emerging from years of relative obscurity. Her first encounter with Bourgeois in 1976, as a young curator deep in the thrall of mid-century formalism, arguably altered Wye’s professional trajectory as she carried MoMA’s storied department into the postmodern era by addressing many of the issues that burned in Bourgeois’s heart, from her protean exploration of mediums and forms to a focus on the female body as a creative locus. Wye’s passionate commitment to the artist is amply evidenced in “Louise Bourgeois: An Unfolding Portrait,” which samples from the printed oeuvre, arranging the works in thematic groups and punctuating them with paintings and sculptures that demonstrate the holistic nature of her endeavors.

This is Wye’s third monographic foray into Bourgeois at MoMA. She organized the artist’s first museum retrospective in 1982, having become acquainted with the astonishing body of work largely hidden from view in her Chelsea studio; that show was dominated by sculpture, the medium on which Bourgeois had concentrated since the late 1940s.

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