Published in 1899 by the psychoanalyst Sigmund Freud, The Interpretation of Dreams had a profound effect on the culture of the early 20th century. The book became central to the artists of the Surrealism movement, who adopted various techniques to unlock the unconscious mind, ranging from dream paintings to Automatism. One of these artists was Louise Bourgeois; her sculptures, drawings and installations had a pervasive atmosphere of terrifying psychosexual drama.
Born into a middle-class family, Bourgeois was brought up just outside Paris, where the key psychological event of her life was the discovery that her father was having an affair with her English tutor. It led to Bourgeois attempting suicide, and she battled with depression for the rest of her life. In the 1930s she was taught by the artist Fernand Léger, through whom she met members of the Surrealism group including André Breton and Joan Miró.
In 1938 she married the art historian Robert Goldwater and moved to New York, where she came into close contact with a charismatic group of artist émigrés. Among them were Marcel Duchamp and Max Ernst, although she is said to have loathed them all as ‘father figures’.
In the 1960s she began to make her ‘Cell’ sculptures: strange, fetishistic interiors that could have been prisons or the uncanny fragments of a dream. Since Bourgeois was a life-long insomniac, these spaces could also be interpreted as the contents of a brain half-crazed from lack of sleep. Later sculptures consisted of wire cages, colossal spiders and rusty towers that contorted into jabbing points filled with menace and despair. ‘Everything I do is inspired by my early life,’ Bourgeois wrote in the 1980s.
Her powerful and original vision evolved over five decades, yet it was only in later life that she was fully recognised, representing the United States at the Venice Biennale in 1993.
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