No matter how it’s written, no obituary will do justice to Louise Bourgeois’ epic life, which now reaches almost mythological proportions. This is particularly impressive for an artist who didn’t reach notoriety until well into her fifties, when her eccentric sculptures ushered in a new ethos. Of course, those psychologically charged spiders (which earned her the nickname Spiderwoman) were just a fraction of a prodigious and varied output. The influence of the French-born artist, who passed away yesterday at the age of 98, is far too pervasive to trace, and the number of artists indebted to her far too many to name.
Perhaps as compelling as her role as dowager of post-war art was Bourgeois’s lifelong commitment to artistic thinking, especially outside the bounds of the museum. For over thirty years, she hosted a salon in her Chelsea townhouse, attracting some of the top talents in the art world, although it was officially open to the public. So, diligently, for a period of four months, I made weekly calls and tried to squeeze myself in. On the verge of giving up, I was finally—and reluctantly—led by a fastidious assistant into a creaky living room one steamy Sunday, with soft drinks and booze piled onto a small table (it’s always cocktail hour in the art world). More festive than a royal audience, it was just as solemn, and I never managed more than an occasional nod. The only things I recall about Bourgeois were a terse French accent, an impish demeanor and a penchant for off-color subjects—and all of those struck me as signs of a true artiste.