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Book Review: Intimate Geometries: The Art and Life of Louise Bourgeois


Louise Bourgeois (1911–2010) is a hero to many, in the history of both art and feminism; a genuine exemplar of overused words like pioneer, genius, icon, and game-changer. Her work has been exhibited and studied internationally for many decades, the perennial subject of curatorial and academic obsession. And yet, seven years after her death, she’s having a fresh moment, with a landmark exhibition of sculptures at MASS MoCA, a wide-ranging yet deeply insightful survey of her printed works at New York’s MoMA, and awards rolling in for a stunning, epic new monograph from Monacelli Press.

Louise Bourgeois (1911–2010). No. 4 of 34 from the fabric illustrated book Ode à l’Oubli. 2002. Page (approx.): 10 3/4 × 12 1/16″ (27.3 × 30.7 cm). The Museum of Modern Art, New York. Gift of the artist. © 2017 The Easton Foundation/Licensed by VAGA, NY.

Intimate Geometries comes in a handled box case, hefty and sculptural and inviting. It telegraphs its art historical importance from the get. And inside, a life truly unfolds. More than a comprehensive survey of her oeuvre -- which it definitely is -- it’s a biography expressed through art, as the art speaks for her with a voice as clear as her own memoir. In fact there is a great deal of her own writing as well. And it’s clear from the accompanying texts that the people who wrote were selected not only for professional acumen but deep personal affection for the artist and her vision. And as a note, it’s the perfect title for such a book; the idea of an intimate geometry is a seeming formal/emotional paradox, but is actually quite literal in its characterization of her creative enterprise, to reinvent modernism as a humanist story. 

Louise Bourgeois (1911–2010). No. 8 of 14 from the installation set À l’Infini. 2008. Soft ground etching, with gouache, watercolor, pencil, and colored pencil additions. Sheet: 40 × 60″ (101.6 × 152.4 cm). The Museum of Modern Art, New York. Purchased with funds provided by Agnes Gund, Marie-Josée and Henry R. Kravis, Marlene Hess and James D. Zirin, Maja Oeri and Hans Bodenmann, and Katherine Farley and Jerry Speyer, and Richard S. Zeisler Bequest (by exchange). © 2017 The Easton Foundation/Licensed by VAGA, NY.

Louise Bourgeois, intimate geometries (page layout) 

Louise Bourgeois, intimate geometries (page layout)

Louise Bourgeois, intimate geometries (page layout) 

Louise Bourgeois (1911–2010). Lacs de Montagne. 1997. Engraving, etching, aquatint, and drypoint. Sheet: 23 13/16 x 29″ (60.5 x 73.7 cm). The Museum of Modern Art, New York. Gift of the artist. © 2017 The Easton Foundation/Licensed by VAGA, NY.

Louise Bourgeois: An Unfolding Portrait, opens September 24 at MoMA and is centrally dedicated to the prints, books, and process materials which despite the extensive scholarship remain a little-known aspect of her work. Some of the over 300 properties are their own self-contained works (she originally trained as a printmaker and painter, before eventually blossoming into sculpture), and some of the works exist in the context of related sculptures, drawings, artist books, and paintings. The show is curated from the institution’s pinnacle archive of prints, and its timing celebrates the completion of the museum’s online catalogue raisonné of her paper-based works. The archive in itself represents the museum’s long history with the artist, going back at least to her solo 1982 retrospective there. Her illustrated books bring attention to another of Bourgeois’s little-known creative outlets: her highly evocative writings, which form the texts for these volumes -- many of which also make appearances in the Monacelli publication.

Louise Bourgeois in 1995 by Mathias Johansson

Louise Bourgeois, intimate geometries (page layout)

Louise Bourgeois, intimate geometries (page layout)

Trained as a painter and printmaker, and as has been mentioned, also a prolific and profoundly introspective, self-aware writer, Bourgeois continued to pursue and develop those interests for her whole life, even after embracing sculpture as her primary medium. These moving primary materials, as well as a thoroughgoing look at her range of employed materials including marble, plaster, bronze, wood, and latex, form the wide and solid foundation for a definitive appreciation of Bourgeois’ indelible impact on Western art history. The special gift of the book’s wide-ranging and in-depth analysis is to perfectly contextualize her accomplishments, accompanied by lavish, gorgeous reproductions, photographs, and portraits (over 1000 images in its 830 large-format pages), and compelling writing. It’s a life that arrives in the box, not just a book. It’s a triumph of criticism and the art of book publishing. It’s no wonder that Intimate Geometries has won both the 2017 FILAF Contemporary Art Book Award and the prestigious 2017 Golden FILAF Award (FILAF d’Or). This book is must-own for Bourgeois experts and novitiates alike. WM


Shana Nys Dambrot

Shana Nys Dambrot is an art critic, curator, and author based in Downtown LA. She is the Arts Editor for the LA Weekly, and a contributor to Flaunt, Art and Cake, Artillery, and Palm Springs Life.

She studied Art History at Vassar College, writes essays for books and catalogs, curates and juries a few exhibitions each year, is a dedicated Instagram photographer and author of experimental short fiction, and speaks at galleries, schools, and cultural institutions nationally. She is a member of ArtTable and the LA Press Club, and sits on the Boards of Art Share-LA and the Venice Institute of Contemporary Art, the Advisory Council of Building Bridges Art Exchange, and the Brain Trust of Some Serious Business.


Photo of Shana Nys Dambrot by Osceola Refetoff


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