Step Inside Louise Bourgeois’s Beautifully Sacred Realm
A look behind the scenes of the famously private artist’s life and home
By Liddy Berman, Architectural Digest
October 10, 2019
“The first time I met with Louise, it was a one-day commission for a one-day shoot,” recalls photographer and author Jean-Francois Jaussaud, “She said ‘Okay, Jean-Francois, you can take some pictures, but I want to see all that you do, and if I don’t like it, I will destroy everything.’” This intimidating start turned out to be the beginning of a beautiful friendship between the artist, who loved the photos when she saw them two days later, and the photographer, whose new book, Louise Bourgeois: An Intimate Portrait, will be released this month. Until the end of Bourgeois’s life, over the course of some 11 years, Jaussaud would return often to her Brooklyn home and capture the artist, her work, and her surroundings with tenderness and accuracy.
A house was more than just a place to live for Bourgeois. It was a frequent source of inspiration in her artwork, where she explored both its positive and negative connotations. “All of her life, she worked on this theme,” says Jaussaud. “The idea of a house could be very protective for women, but also very restrictive, like a prison.” This duality is well-captured in the pages of the book, which offers an exclusive look at many of Bourgeouis’s seminal works on this theme while still in the making, and gives glimpses of the woman behind them.
Bourgeois’s home was also her art studio, its rooms strewn with an endless array of sketches, maquettes, and the delicate yet impressive materials that made up her works. A picture of a wheeled cabinet of intricately worked glassware, a simple storage device, captures the tension of her artwork well—fragile beauty, in an industrial frame, set on wheels that leave it only one push away from total destruction.
Bourgeois devoted much of her artistic practice to grappling with the contemporary expectations of women. Spider, the first of her famed spider sculptures, towers menacingly inside the studio in one of Jaussaud’s earliest photographs. Its gleaming carapace and razor-sharp pincers extend beyond the frame of the camera’s lens, evoking the grandeur of its size and the visceral impact of dominating and dangerous aura. In spite of its apparent menace, the spider is also a weaver of webs, one who creates flexible homes and cares for her children. It was closely linked to Bourgeois’ perception of her own mother, whom she described in a 1995 poem entitled “Ode to My Mother” as “deliberate, clever, patient, soothing, reasonable, dainty, subtle, indispensable, neat, and useful as an araignée (spider).”
Bourgeois had a great gift for creating work that pressed her audience to explore it from multiple perspectives. Is this a haven or a prison? A predator or a protector? “It is not an image I am seeking,” she is quoted as saying in the book. “It’s not an idea. It is an emotion of wanting, of giving, and of destroying.”
Jaussaud’s photography conveys these strong emotions. Whether it is a tender picture of the artist clasping hands with her former studio assistant, the handwritten notes detailing her dream of the previous night, or her deceased husband’s belongings, left where he had laid them for more than 20 years after his death, these photographs present an intimate portrait of Bourgeois. Readers who already love the artist will be thrilled by the richness of this book, and those who didn’t know her work before will discover a complex, brilliant, and deeply emotional artist who used her creative gifts to reshape the world around her.