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Black Flames

Black Flames
stamped with initials, numbered and stamped with foundry mark '3/6 L.B.' (lower edge)
bronze, paint and stainless steel
Height: 69 1/2 in. (176.5 cm.)
Conceived in 1947-1949 and cast in 1989. This work is number three from an edition of six plus an artist's proof.
The artist.
Cheim & Read, New York.
Acquired from the above by the late owner, 1999.
Louise Bourgeois: Selected Works 1946-1989, exh. cat., Rhona Hoffman Gallery, Chicago, 1989 (another cast exhibited).
Louise Bourgeois: Bronze Sculpture and Drawings, exh. cat., Linda Cathcart Gallery, Santa Monica, 1990 (another cast exhibited).
Louise Bourgeois: Bronzes of the 1940s and 1950s, exh. cat., Galerie Karsten Greve, 1990 (another cast exhibited).
C. Meyer-Thoss, Louise Bourgeois: Designing For Free Fall, Zürich, 1992, p. 56 (another cast illustrated).
Louise Bourgeois Personages, 1940s / Installations, 1990s, exh. cat., Laura Carpenter Fine Art, Santa Fe, 1993 (another cast exhibited).
Louise Bourgeois: Sculptures, exh. cat., Kestner-Gesellschaft, Hannover, 1994 (another cast illustrated, pl. 8).
Louise Bourgeois, exh. cat., Helsinki City Art Museum, 1995, p. 82 (another cast illustrated).
Louise Bourgeois, exh. cat., MARCO, Museum of Contemporary Art of Monterrey, 1996, p. 48 (another cast exhibited and illustrated, pl. 7).
Louise Bourgeois, exh. cat., Gallery Paule Anglim, San Francisco, 1996 (another cast exhibited).
Louise Bourgeois: The Forties and Fifties, November-December 1996 (another cast exhibited).
Yokohama Museum of Art, Louise Bourgeois: Homesickness, exh. cat., Gallery Joseloff, Harry Jack Gray Center at University of Hartford, Westford, 1997, p. 53 (another cast exhibited and illustrated, pl. 18).
Twentieth Century American Sculpture at the White House, exh. cat., The White House, Washington, D.C., 1999 (another cast exhibited).
Louise Bourgeois, exh. cat., Minneapolis Institute of Arts, 1999 (another cast exhibited).
View From Denver, exh. cat., The White House, Washington, D.C., 2000 (another example exhibited).
Louise Bourgeois: The Personages, exh. cat., C&M Arts, New York, 2001 (another cast illustrated, pl. 6).
Louise Bourgeois: The Early Work, exh. cat., Krannert Art Museum, University of Illinois, Champaign, 2002, p. 79 (another cast illustrated).
The Esquire House 2004 Los Angeles, 9 Beverly Ridge Terrace, Beverly Hills, 2004 (another cast exhibited).
20th Anniversary Exhibition, exh. cat., Galerie Karsten Greve, Paris, 2009, p. 126 (another cast illustrated in color in situ at the exhibition).
Louise Bourgeois, Structures of Existence: The Cells, exh. cat., Haus der Kunst, Munich, 2015 (another cast exhibited).
Denver, Ginny Williams Gallery, Bourgeois: Four Decades, October-December 1990.
Denver, Ginny Williams Family Foundation, Louise Bourgeois, October 1993-March 1994.
Aspen Art Museum, National Council Member’s Show, February-April 1994.
Musée d'Art Contemporain de Montréal, Louise Bourgeois: The Locus of Memory, April-September 1996.
Birmingham, Hill Gallery, Six From Storm King, September-October 1998.
Special notice
On occasion, Christie's has a direct financial interest in the outcome of the sale of certain lots consigned for sale. This will usually be where it has guaranteed to the Seller that whatever the outcome of the auction, the Seller will receive a minimum sale price for the work. This is known as a minimum price guarantee. This is such a lot.
Further details
The original painted wood version of Black Flames resides in the collection of the Philadelphia Museum of Art.

Brought to you by

Max Carter
Max Carter Vice Chairman, 20th and 21st Century Art, Americas

Lot Essay

Louise Bourgeois’s totemic sculpture Black Flames is emblematic of the evocative and mysterious forms that the artist produced throughout her life. Evoking the upright silhouette of her iconic Personage sculptures, which were executed during the same period, the present work exudes an existential presence that exists far in excess of its physical dimensions. The organic form along with its tactile surface creates an object that yearns to be touched, yet its darkly ominous palette and flame-like form creates a portentous atmosphere—a dichotomy that is present in the very best examples of the artist’s work.
Standing nearly six-feet tall, Black Flames soars upwards towards the sky. Emerging from the ground, Bourgeois assembles an assortment of geometric and animate forms that speak to her own lived experience. Rigorous lines sit next to supple curves, in what the artist herself called, “the duel between the isolated individual and… shared awareness. At first…,” she continued, “I made single figures without any freedom at all… Later tiny windows started appear...” (quoted in J. Helfenstein, Louise Bourgeois: The Early Works, exh. cat., Krannert Art Museum, Urbana-Champaign, 2002, p. 34). Black Flames is symptomatic of these new forms, its tall vertical reach punctuated by a single open “window” near the center of the work.
The clustering and twisting, together with the juxtaposed and fissured elements, creates a self-generating volatility in the work’s varying weights and densities, as if disjunctive forms are compressed into a narrative sequence. These seemingly incongruent modules create a spiraling sense of ascent, as the heat from the flame rises, taking us with it. Reinterpreting the anthropomorphic shape as a series of conspicuously unstable disparate parts, slightly askew, there is, nevertheless, a pleasing rhythmic surge as the form reaches the pinnacle. Separated segments are expressive as well as sensitive to the enclosing space, eliciting a relationship of positive and negative where the interstices beckon the viewer to approach, creating a reciprocal responsiveness, in the sense that Bourgeois has expressed, where “the emotional responsiveness of the separate but interlocking parts” exist permanently (“Taped Interview,” 1979, in D. Wye, Louise Bourgeois, exh. cat., The Museum of Modern Art, New York, 1983, p. 23).
Although intentionally abstract and resolutely non-figurative, Bourgeois did admit that these sculptures were also reminiscent of individuals—or at least the psychological entities contained within them. These are works which stand at the height of an average person at slightly over five feet tall, and were “conceived of and functioned as figures, each given a personality by its shape and articulation, and responding to one another. They were life-size in a real space…” (quoted in J. Helfenstein, “Personnages: Animism versus Modernist Sculpture,” in Louise Bourgeois, exh. cat., Tate Modern, London, 2007, p. 207). The early loss of her mother and a difficult relationship with her father meant that the artist often found it difficult to maintain intimate and lasting relationships with other people. Yet, cast in bronze, these enigmatic forms are designed to evoke the whole range of human emotions. “The psychological tension between intimacy and isolation, between silence and dialogue becomes the starting point” (ibid., p. 207).Black Flames, together with her other upright sculptural forms are among Bourgeois’s most celebrated works. With clear parallels to the stacked forms of Constantin Brancusi, this work has been widely exhibited and cited in literature about the artist. A unique wooden version of the present work is in the permanent collection of the Philadelphia Museum of Art. Personal experience and artistic expression are inextricably entwined in Bourgeois’s art; building on her own deeply felt experiences and her extraordinary aesthetic imagination, she created works that convey universal feelings of desire, anxiety and distress. Bourgeois has declared, “In my sculpture, it's not an image I'm seeking, it's not an idea. My goal is to re-live a past emotion. My art is an exorcism” (quoted in Louise Bourgeois: Works in Marble, exh. cat., Galerie Hauser and Wirth, Munich, 2002, p. 20).

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