Louise Bourgeois | Sculptor | Dead at 98

Ayanna Nahmias, Editor-in-ChiefLast Modified: 02:22 AM EDT, 2 June 2010

"Tell your own story, and you will be interesting. Don't get the green disease of envy. Don't be fooled by success and money. Don't let anything come between you and your work." ~ Louise Bourgeois

New York: Artist Louise Bourgeois died at Beth Israel Medical Center in Manhattan on Monday, 31 May 2010. She suffered a heart attack Saturday night, said the studio director, Wendy Williams. Although 98, she was still working and in fact finished her latest piece just last week.

Bourgeois' work consists of a variety of materials sculpted into organic creations reflecting the influences of surrealism, primitivism, and early modernist sculptors. Like most modern art, particularly surrealism, cubism or primitivism, these genres are not easily digestible. Often interpreting these works is more about introspection than inspection, since it incumbent upon the viewer to project their personal and psychological experiences into the experience to derive meaning from the work. Whether the reaction is visceral hatred, banal ennui, or incomprehension, engagement with the work evokes an emotional response.

Bourgeois' work is no less challenging as she tackled themes relating to male and female bodies and emotions of anger, betrayal, even murder. In many interviews, Bourgeois cited a childhood trauma as the source of much of the emotion in her work: her father's affair with a woman hired as an English tutor for young Louise.

"You see, I always hated that woman," she told The Washington Post. "... My work is often about murder."

Bourgeois' work was almost unknown to the wider art world until she was 70, when New York's Museum of Modern Art presented a solo show of her career in 1982.

"This is not a show that is easy to digest," New York Times critic Grace Glueck wrote. "The reward is an intense encounter with an artist who explores her psyche at considerable risk."

In his book "American Visions," Time art critic Robert Hughes called her "the mother of American feminist identity art. ... Bourgeois's influence on young artists has been enormous."

He noted the key difference in her use of sexual imagery: She explores "femaleness from within, as distinct from the familiar male conventions of looking at it from the outside, from the eyeline of another gender. ... Surrealist fascination with the female body becomes, so to speak, turned inside out."