Louise Bourgeois was prolific in a variety of media throughout her career, working in large-scale sculpture, installation, painting, and printmaking. Her work defied categorization, drawing comparison to Abstract Expressionism, Feminist Art, and Surrealism at any given time. Bourgeois’ work was tied across media and years by her recurrent themes of sexuality and the body, the family and domesticity, death and the unconscious. Childhood trauma and hidden emotion related to her father’s infidelity inform much of Bourgeois’ work, which tends to emphasize the woman’s role as mother and challenges patriarchal dominance. Because she was not tethered to any particular art historical movement, Louise Bourgeois was known as a pioneering artistic voice across genres.

While Bourgeois might be best known for her large scale sculptures, she was an active printmaker at varying times during her career – first in the 1930s and 40s when she arrived in New York, and then again in the 1980s. In those earlier years, Bourgeois worked on a small press in her home and then transitioned to the well-known print shop Atelier 17. Bourgeois shifted her attention to sculpture after her initial period of printmaking productivity – but in her seventies she set up her old home press and began printing again. Over the course of her life, and bolstered by those two periods of great productivity, Bourgeois created over 1,500 printed compositions.

The included print Couples comes from the later period of productivity, when Bourgeois was 90 years old. Upon first glance, the piece may appear to present the image of three loving couples wrapped up together. Questioning the piece’s content and motivation, however, leads to the question – what is binding the couples together, and did they choose it? This piece is referential to a performance piece Bourgeois created earlier in her career, called She Lost It. Bourgeois created a banner with the following story written on it:

A man and a woman lived together. On one evening he did not come back from work, and she waited. She kept on waiting and she grew littler and littler. Later, a neighbor stopped by out of friendship and there he found her, in the armchair, the size of a pea.

The insidious result of the narrative references the insecurities and anger Bourgeois felt after witnessing her father’s affairs as a child. For the original performance, on December 5, 1992, this banner was used as a centerpoint. The banner began wrapped around a single actor, and as it was unfurled for the audience to read it slowly began wrapping up others until eventually it wrapped around a couple, as shown in the lithograph. The original actor held a pea in his hand – referencing the abandoned woman.

The spirals wrapping the three sets of people in Couples have a discomforting effect – overall, the spiral in Bourgeois’ work represents “the fear of losing control” and the experience of “giving up control; of trust, positive energy, of life itself.” Bourgeois questions whether we can control the chaos, and whether we want to.

” Louise Bourgeois: The Spiral”. Exhibitions. Louise Bourgeois: The Spiral. 2020. Retrieved September, 2020.