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05/31/2010

Artist Louise Bourgeois dies at 98

May 31, 2010 | 12:29 pm

Louise Bourgeois, an internationally revered artist whose intensely personal work was inspired by psychological conflict, feminist consciousness and a fertile imagination, has died. She was 98.

Bourgeois died Monday at Beth Israel Medical Center in Manhattan after suffering a heart attack on Saturday, said Wendy Williams, managing director of the Louise Bourgeois Studio in New York.

Known for sculptures of giant spiders, women with extra breasts, double-headed penises and rooms that resonate with loneliness and dread, Bourgeois was a fearless creative force whose work could be disturbing and perversely witty. Although she got little attention from the art world until her seventh decade, she became its grand dame, constantly in demand and showered with honors.

Bourgeois often left viewers with questions about the meaning of her work, but made no secret of painful experiences that shaped it. The spiders — including "Maman," a 35-foot-tall piece commissioned for the inauguration of the Tate Gallery for Modern Art in London in 2000 — are a tribute to her beloved mother, whom she described as a pillar of inner strength who was "clever, patient and neat as a spider."

Dad, whom the artist perceived an a domineering philanderer, didn't fare so well. In "The Destruction of the Father" — a 1974 installation that appeared at Los Angeles' Museum of Contemporary Art in 2008-2009 in a traveling retrospective — Bourgeois re-created a youthful fantasy of her father being dismembered and devoured by his family.

"She smashed a taboo," said Christopher Knight, The Times' art critic. "Bourgeois was the first Modern artist to expose the emotional depth and power of domestic subject matter. Before her, male artists had only nibbled around the edges, and women just weren't allowed."

We'll have a complete news obituary soon at latimes.com/obituaries.

--Times staff reports
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