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Louise Bourgeois (1911-2010)
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Louise Bourgeois (1911-2010)

Hysterical

Details
Louise Bourgeois (1911-2010)
Hysterical
incised with the artist’s initials ‘LB’ (on the base of the figurine); titled ‘HYSTERICAL’ (on a plaque affixed to the base of the figurine)
fabric, stainless steel, glass, wood and lead
70 x 24 x 24in. (177.8 x 60.9 x 60.9 cm.)
Executed in 2001
Provenance
Cheim & Read, New York.
Acquired from the above by the present owner.
Literature
Louise Bourgeois: New Work, exh. cat., Cheim & Read, New York, 2001 (illustrated in colour, unpaged).
Exhibited
Seoul, Kukje Gallery, Louise Bourgeois, 2002 (illustrated in colour, unpaged).
Special notice

Artist's Resale Right ("Droit de Suite"). Artist's Resale Right Regulations 2006 apply to this lot, the buyer agrees to pay us an amount equal to the resale royalty provided for in those Regulations, and we undertake to the buyer to pay such amount to the artist's collection agent.
These lots have been imported from outside the EU for sale using a Temporary Import regime. Import VAT is payable (at 5%) on the Hammer price. VAT is also payable (at 20%) on the buyer’s Premium on a VAT inclusive basis. When a buyer of such a lot has registered an EU address but wishes to export the lot or complete the import into another EU country, he must advise Christie's immediately after the auction.

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Katharine Arnold
Katharine Arnold

Lot Essay

‘The skeins of wool are a friendly refuge, like a web or a cocoon. The caterpillar gets the silk from his mouth, builds his cocoon and when it is completed he dies. The cocoon has exhausted the animal. I am the cocoon. I have no ego. I am my work’
LOUISE BOURGEOIS

‘… things that have broken down or have been ripped apart can be joined and mended. My art is a form of restoration in terms of my feelings to myself and to others’
LOUISE BOURGEOIS


Executed in 2001, Louise Bourgeois’ Hysterical is a mighty apparition. Elevated and proudly alone, a totemic female form woven from pale pink fabric stands in a metal-framed glass cell; like Cerberus or a triplicate goddess, she has three heads, and is poised open-mouthed as if delivering a speech. Though deprived of arms she remains resolutely upright. The work’s title reflects Bourgeois’ deep interest in psychic and somatic states, and in the sexist assumptions of psychiatry. Hysteria, whose etymology lies in the Greek hustera (‘womb’), has been characterised as an exclusively female affliction since the 19th century – a notion Bourgeois decisively inverted with the pendant male body of her sculpture The Arch of Hysteria in 1993. In Hysterical, the three heads instead seem to propose female hysteria as a condition of alterity and power, invoking a hydra-like split personality and the ancient Jungian archetype of the triadic deity. This idea of irrationality as inspiration was popular with Surrealists, whose fascination with dreams and the unconscious had much in common with Bourgeois’ own approach. The work is also a potent exorcism of Bourgeois’ past. Created in her ninetyfirst year, it sees her practice come triumphantly full circle: the use of needlework revisits a foundational aesthetic impulse that began in her family’s antique tapestry repair workshop in Aubusson in the 1920s. Reminiscent of a primitive fertility idol or a swaddled, mummified body, Hysterical boldly repurposes her early talent as a seamstress. Having worked in lithography, carving, casting, assemblage, installation and performance art over the course of her seven-decade career, Bourgeois’ return to fabric creates a form that bares its skin and sutures openly, with a sense of the body radically cut up, augmented and reassembled. Memory and selfhood are explored and reified into a material presence that exists firmly and fiercely in the world. The result is a succinct and powerful expression of the essence of Bourgeois’ work: the fluid nature of the self and the sexual, psychological and intellectual threads that knit us together.

Weaving is an important metaphorical motif in Bourgeois’ practice. From its autobiographical genesis in her parents’ atelier, she has long associated the idea of sewing and repair with her mother, who she saw as a protective, nurturing figure, and who had herself been irreparably damaged by her husband’s unfaithfulness and cruelty. The image of a spider – a patient, meticulous maternal weaver – appears in drawings by Bourgeois as early as 1947, and is the subject of numerous important sculptures including the monumental Maman (1999). More than a simple cipher for motherly care, however, the spider can also be read to stand in for Bourgeois herself, making a defiant statement of female creativity in a field dominated by male artists. Her weaving is no domestic chore, but a mode of visionary fabrication from deep-seated narrative strands of self. In 1988 Bourgeois stated that ‘The skeins of wool are a friendly refuge, like a web or a cocoon. The caterpillar gets the silk from his mouth, builds his cocoon and when it is completed he dies. The cocoon has exhausted the animal. I am the cocoon. I have no ego. I am my work’ (L. Bourgeois, ‘Statements 1988’, in H-U. Obrist and M-L. Bernadac (eds.), Louise Bourgeois: Destruction of the Father / Reconstruction of the Father, Writings and Interviews 1923-1997, Cambridge, MA, 2005, p. 173). With an emphasis on the generative body, she affirms the transubstantiation of her inner self into the external in her art – a (re)productive process underscored by the fertile curves of Hysterical. Indeed, while many of her works traffic in the trauma of human relationships, Hysterical is emphatically alone and self-sufficient. Neither allegorical nor illustrative, it is an expressive whole, an object embodying the interiority from which it came. This free-standing serenity is also expressed, says Bourgeois, in its colour. ‘Pink is feminine. It represents a liking and acceptance of the self’ (L. Bourgeois, 1992, quoted in Louise Bourgeois: The Fabric Works, exh. cat. Fondazione Emilio e Annabianca Vedova, Venice 2010, p. 111).

The figure’s placement in a glass container echoes Bourgeois’ Cells, an important series of works that she executed in the late 1980s. These room-sized assemblages of objects and sculpture, inviting the viewer into an intimate psychological interior, were unnervingly ambiguous: were they homes, places of shelter or prison cells? Similarly, the vitrine of Hysterical makes the viewer a voyeur. We gaze upon a contained body, recalling the cage-like motif found in Francis Bacon’s paintings as well as the existential frames that surround the sculptures of Giacometti – both artists admired by Bourgeois. In Bacon’s work in particular, this cage creates a sense of anxiety and claustrophobia. There is a fine line between self-containment and entrapment. It seems, however, that Bourgeois is content in solitude. The figure in Hysterical is protected by its glass, and imbued with a sense of iconic and reliquary power. ‘I’m a complete loner’, Bourgeois has said. ‘It doesn’t help me to associate with people; it really doesn’t help me. What helps me is to realise my own disabilities and to expose them’ (L. Bourgeois, ‘Statements from an Interview with Donald Kuspit’, in H-U. Obrist and M-L. Bernadac (eds.), Louise Bourgeois: Destruction of the Father / Reconstruction of the Father, Writings and Interviews 1923-1997, Cambridge, MA, 2005, pp. 164-65). In Hysterical, Bourgeois displays an aspect of herself knitted from the filaments of experience: a rich, cathartic and imperfect presence that expresses ability as much as restriction. Materially referencing cocoon, tapestry and body, the work’s fabric also recalls bandages, the bindings for wounds. Creating and recreating herself through her art, Bourgeois transcends her traumas with voodoo-doll intensity, weaving a work of vivid, uncompromising charisma.

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