Initially exhibiting her work with the Abstract Expressionists, Louise Bourgeois (b. 1911, Paris-d. 2010, New York) soon set herself apart with an oeuvre laden with symbolic objects expressing themes of loneliness, conflict, frustration, and vulnerability. Known as a sculptor and installation artist, Bourgeois was also a prolific printmaker who, for the last two decades of her life, collaborated with Felix Harlan, of the Harlan and Weaver studio, on a number of portfolios and series, including this print. The female body in Bourgeois’ drypoint, Hanging Figure, is highly figurative, though not realistically rendered — a recurring mode of representation in the artist’s work. In this image, a distinctly female torso is hanging from a hook; this is one instance among many in her oeuvre in which the artist does not hesitate to distort or even dismember the female body as a means of expressing either a concept or a deep emotion in a powerful visual way. Here, Bourgeois’ figure possesses the exaggerated sexual features of a fertility goddess, but is reduced to a limp, lifeless, and thus powerless state — suggestive, perhaps, of victimization. The absence of a head indicates a certain lack of individuality, and further invokes a theme of women’s objectification, wherein the viewer’s attention is drawn to the body rather than the mind. The image of a torso hanging from a hook also cannot but be likened to pieces of meat hanging from hooks in a butcher shop. In Hanging Figure, Bourgeois imbues the female body with meaning linked both to the universal human condition and her personal experience as a woman.
Rachel Spaulding ’11
Student Curatorial Assistant