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    Sale 1834

    Post-War and Contemporary Art Evening Sale

    16 May 2007, New York, Rockefeller Plaza

  • Lot 38

    Louise Bourgeois (b. 1911)


    Price Realised  


    Louise Bourgeois (b. 1911)
    polychromed bronze
    80½ x 27 x 27 in. (204.4 x 68.5 x 68.5 cm.)
    Executed in 1947-1953. This work is number two, a unique variation from an edition of six plus one artist's proof executed in 1983.

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    When Louise Bourgeois had her sculpture debut in an exhibition at the Peridot Gallery in New York, the space was filled with strange, elongated figures who were spread out, alone or in groups, throughout. Amongst these stood the simplified effigy of a woman carrying packages, the same as the one standing at the heart of Quarantania, a bronze reprisal of this momentous episode. Some of the other figures here present can also be recognised in contemporary photographs both of the exhibition, and of the artist and her studio. In Quarantania, this group has been arranged in such a way as to present the viewer with an enigmatic sense of family, of a woman surrounded by guardians or wards. Are these the protectors or the protected? As in the original Peridot configurations-- which caused a great stir at the time and were a marked innovation in the presentation of works of art as installation-- rather than discrete objects, Quarantania presents us with a powerful dynamic that relies on the unspoken, unresolved and therefore all the more intriguing mysteries of the relationships between the various individual characters. They are, as Bourgeois pointed out, "Attached. They are dependent on each other for better or worse" (L. Bourgeois quoted in B.F. Colin, "A Conversation with Louise Bourgeois," reproduced at www.frigatezine.com, 2000).

    It is not the existence of the figures alone, but rather the relationship between them, between them and the viewer, and between them and the sculptor, that is crucial. These lifesize effigies are, despite the almost Arp-like simplicity of the forms that have been used to conjure them, personalities, and as such are deeply personal facets of Bourgeois' own life and relationships. Crucially, they reflect her relationship with her family, which remained in her native France while she was in the United States, having married the art historian Robert Goldwater.

    The figures are all tower-like, all parallel, reflecting the artist's interest in the soaring, gleaming skyscrapers of New York, in Euclid, in geometry, and in lines that rise upwards yet will never meet. Thus the cool scientific rigour of architecture and of the mathematics which she had studied at the Sorbonne is used here in an artistic content in order to convey an emotional state, to capture the futility of the relationships between these figures, to translate an existential and deeply personal emotional anxiety at the limitations and even impossibilities of communication.

    Because these slender elements are life-sized, because they inhabit our space much as a human would, their physical presence emphasizes this emotional conjuring of those distant friends, separated from the artist by geography and sometimes by death. And yet their thinness, which makes them appear as shard-like, as fragmentary mirages, as somehow insubstantial, shows the impossibility of this reconciliation, an impossibility that would only increase in 1951 with the death of the artist's father.

    The astuteness with which Bourgeois manages to tap into the deeper, less specific anxieties and emotions of the viewer while also exploring her own specific thoughts and feelings is made especially evident in Quarantania in its sense of precarious balance. This is most clear in the strange, almost organic and highly evocative 'packages' that the woman holds; it is also clear in the shapes of the figures themselves. These slender objects appear to teeter on the brink of collapse, supported by an unknown force, their bases thin in circumference, giving an impression of fragility that extends to the emotional. The status quo, it appears, is being upheld only through a superhuman effort. Bourgeois herself explained this phenomenon, saying her sculptures from this period,

    "... get thinner toward the base. They are delicate on their feet. They are not monuments. It is a more fragile balance. Physical and psychological presence is a balance. That is the tension of being human, the fragility of people. We are always afraid of falling so we balance ourselves" (L. Bourgeois quoted in M. Auping, "Interview with Michael Auping," Bernadac & Obrist, eds., opus cit, 2000, pp. 353-54).

    This fear of falling resonates through every level of Quarantania, from the seemingly impossible equilibrium of the figures to the title itself. For while the clear linguistic link to the number 40 in the title appears to link Quarantania perhaps to Bourgeois's own concerns about her age-- she turned 40 in 1951-- it is also the name of the mountain traditionally linked to the biblical temptation of Christ, taking its name from the forty days and nights of fasting that this episode involved.

    The present work is a painted bronze that was cast from the wooden original, which is in the Museum of Modern Art, New York. As can be seen by the list of exhibitions and literature in which the sculpture has been included, the subject is one of the most widely seen works in her entire oeuvre. In the wooden version, Bourgeois had taken several separate works from the late 1940s and, in 1953, arranged them in a group that itself condensed some of the mystery and potency of the relationships evident in the original Peridot exhibitions. In 1983, in the wake of the MoMA retrospective a year earlier, she cast a small group of bronze versions of Quarantania in a foundry in New Jersey. While most of them precisely mimicked the composition of the MoMA original, Bourgeois intervened during the execution of the present work, slightly altering the positions of the characters, making this a unique example, a sculpture with profound links to two very different eras in the artist's career.


    Robert Miller Gallery, New York
    Acquired from the above by the present owner


    R. Goldwater, What is Modern Sculpture?, New York, Museum of Modern Art, 1969, p. 96 (another example illustrated as work in progress).
    R. Storr, "Intimate Geographies: The Work and Life of Louise Bourgeois," Art Press International, ed. 175, December 1992, p. E4 (another example illustrated).
    C. Haenlein, ed., Louise Bourgeois Sculptures and Installations, Hanover, 1994, pl. 10 (another example illustrated).
    C. Flohic and D. Dobbels, Ninety, Charenton-le-Pont Cedex, 1994, p. 23, no. 15 (another example illustrated).
    M.-L. Bernadac, Louise Bourgeois, Paris, 1996, p. 59 (another example illustrated).
    T. Amano, Louise Bourgeois: Homesickness, Yokohama Museum of Art, Tokyo, 1997, p. 57 (another example illustrated).
    L. Bourgeois, "La Autoexpresion es Sagrada y Fatal," Artey Parte, no. 23, November 1999, p. 61 (another example illustrated).
    A. Jahn, Louise Bourgeois: Subversionen Des Körpers, Berlin, 1999, p. 108 (another example illustrated).
    T. Kellein, Louise Bourgeois, exh. cat., Kunsthalle Bielefeld, 1999, p. 8 (another example illustrated).
    M. Nixon and J. Bird, ed., Oxford Art Journal, vol. 22, no. 2, 1999, p. 9 (another example illustrated).
    J. Landay, Museum of Fine Arts Houston: Visitor's Guide, 2000, pl. 16.2 (another example illustrated).
    P. Galassi, R. Storr and A. Umland, Making Choices, exh. cat., Museum of Modern Art, New York, 2000, p. 204 (another example illustrated).
    J. G. Castro, "Louise Bourgeois: Turning Myths Inside Out," Sculpture Magazine, vol. 20, no. 1, January/February 2001, p. 20 (another example illustrated; also illustrated on the cover).
    R. Storr, P. Herkenhoff and A. Schwartzman, Louise Bourgeois, London, 2003, p. 55 (another example illustrated).
    R. Diez, "Louise Bourgeois: La Rivoluzione Continua," ARTE, February 2003, p. 114 (another example illustrated).
    E. Landau, Reading Abstract Expressionism: Context and Critique, London, 2005, fig. 18 (another example illustrated).
    M. Nixon, Fantastic Reality: Louise Bourgeois and a Story of Modern Art, London, 2005, p. 162 (another example illustrated).
    Monaco, Grimaldi Forum, New York New York, July-September 2006, p. 66 (another example illustrated).
    M.-L. Bernadac, Louise Bourgeois, Paris, 2006, p. 6 (another example illustrated).
    T. Kellein, "Market File: Louise Bourgeois," Art & Auction, July 2006, p. 59 (another example illustrated).


    New York, Peridot Gallery, Louise Bourgeois, Recent Work 1947-1949; Seventeen Standing Figures in Wood, October 1949 (another example exhibited).
    New York, Museum of Modern Art; Contemporary Arts Museum Houston; Chicago, Museum of Contemporary Art and Akron Art Museum, Louise Bourgeois: Retrospective, November 1982-January 1984, p. 61 (another example illustrated).
    Paris and Zurich, Galerie Maeght-Lelong, Louise Bourgeois: Retrospektive 1947-1984, February-April 1985, pp. 14-15 (another example illustrated).
    New York, Art for Our Sake, Inc., July-September 1987 (another example exhibited).
    San Francisco, Gallery Paule Anglim, Louise Bourgeois: Sculpture 1947-1955, November-December 1987 (another example exhibited).
    Chicago, Rhona Hoffman Gallery, Louise Bourgeois: Selected Works 1946-1989, November-October 1989 (another example exhibited).
    Denver, Ginny Williams Gallery, Bourgeois: Four Decades, October-December 1990 (another example exhibited).
    Los Angeles, Museum of Contemporary Art, Individuals: A Selected History of Contemporary Art, December 1986-January 1988 (another example exhibited).
    Cologne, Museum Ludwig, Bilderstreit, April-July 1989 (another example exhibited).
    Frankfurter Kunstverein; Munich, Stadtische Galerie im Lenbachhaus; Lyon, Musée d'art contemporain; Barcelona, Fundación Tápies; Kunstmuseum Bern and Otterlo, Kröller-Müller Museum, Louise Bourgeois: A Retrospective Exhibition, December 1989-July 1991, p. 57 (another example illustrated).
    The Saint Louis Art Museum, Louis Bourgeois: The Personnages, July-August 1994, pl. 20 (another example illustrated).
    Kansas City, Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art, Louise Bourgeois, July-August 1994 (another example exhibited).
    Museo de Arte Contemporaneo de Monterrey; Seville, Centro Andaluz de Arte Contemporaneo and Mexico City, Museo Rufino Tamayo, Louise Bourgeois, April 1995-August 1996, p. 57, pl. 15 (another example illustrated; another example also illustrated on the cover).
    National Gallery of Victoria and Museum of Contemporary Art Sydney, Louise Bourgeois, October 1995-April 1996 (another example exhibited).
    Fukuoka City, Mitsubishi-Jisho Artium and Seoul, Walker Hill Art Center, Louise Bourgeois, August-November 1995 (another example exhibited).
    Hamburg, Deichtorhallen and Musée d'art contemporain de Montreal, Louise Bourgeois: Sculptures, environments, dessins 1938-1995, January-September 1996, p. 62 (another example illustrated).
    Westford, University of Hartford, Harry Jack Gray Center, Gallery Joseloff, Louise Bourgeois: The Forties and Fifties, November-December 1996 (another example exhibited).
    Philadelphia, Locks Gallery, Louise Bourgeois, March-April 1997 (another example exhibited).
    Hanover, Dartmouth College, Jaffe-Friede & Strauss Galleries, Louise Bourgeois: The Space of Memory, February-March 1999 (another example exhibited).
    Kyunggi-Do, National Museum of Contemporary Art, Louise Bourgeois: The Space of Memory, September-November 2000, p. 111 (another example illustrated).
    New York, C&M Arts, Louise Bourgeois: The Personnages, April-June 2001, pl. 11 (another example illustrated).
    Champlain, University of Illinois, Krannert Art Museum; Madison Art Center and Aspen Art Museum, Louise Bourgeois: The Early Work, April 2002-February 2003, pp. 24-26 and 85 (another example illustrated).
    Humblebaek, Louisiana Museum of Modern Art, Louise Bourgeois: Life As Art, February-June 2003, pl. 14 (another example illustrated).
    New York, Chelsea Art Museum, Presence, February-March 2004 (another example exhibited).
    Havana, Wilfredo Lam Center, Louise Bourgeois: One and Others, February-April 2005 (another example illustrated).
    Kunsthalle Bielefeld, Louise Bourgeois: La Famille, March-June 2006, p. 108 (another example illustrated).