By Maggie Rey

Louise Bourgeois was a renowned French-American artist whose 4,000+ pieces would find their posthumous home at the Museum of Modern Art. But she did not choose to pursue art and leave her aspirations of becoming a mathematician until her mother passed away from illness, while her father carried on an extended affair with Louise’s live-in English tutor.

From great pain comes great art. However, that art often subtly undertones that great pain, as though it were a secret message living inside of the work, only for the artist and truly observant to recognize. Louise Bourgeois was many things – a mother, a wife, a feminist, a wildly inventive, successful artist and a European-born Surrealist, but her work was rarely, if ever, subtle. She was more often called literal or obvious, as though her pieces were billboard signs spelling out the exact origin stories of her grief.

The series, “What is the Shape of This Problem?” was published and shared in 1999. The nine pieces feature a drawing with explanation or question. Each line was taken from Bourgeois’s diary entries, spanning forty years of her life, from childhood to adulthood. The images are based on drawings she created in the 1990s. Each combination of drawing and text inspires a different response, each one as vivid as the next. These pieces, though unique and specific to Borgeois’ life, stir up something inside of you. You’ve known these feelings. You’ve experienced these things.

Bourgeois’s artwork is so important because it is unapologetically and highly personal. She worked from themes that drew from her childhood, often featuring domesticity and the family, as well as sexuality and the subconscious. Her art was her therapy. Here, she invites you to decide not only how a problem feels or impacts, but what shape it takes, both as a piece inside of you and as its own entity.


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