The Best Places To See Louise Bourgeois' Art

Photo of Valentine Baldassari
14 November 2015

Louise Bourgeois is sometimes nicknamed the Spiderwoman for her monumental spider sculpture, but there is more to her art than giant arachnids. She has been hugely influential in modern and contemporary art, even founding ‘confessional art,’ a form of contemporary art whereby the artist, often a woman, intentionally expresses their inner self in their work. In Bourgeois’s art, this usually translates into an intimate expression of loneliness, anxiety, and her relationship to her family. Today, her work can be seen all over the world.

‘Maman’ standing outside the National Gallery in Ottawa | © Radagast/Wikicommons

National Gallery of Canada

Located in Ottawa, the National Gallery of Canada is one of the country’s best art galleries. In 2005, it created controversy by acquiring a copy of Louise Bourgeois’s Maman, her famous bronze, stainless steel, and marble sculpture depicting a giant spider whose title means ‘Mum’ in French. It’s a particularly representative example of the highly personal nature of Louise Bourgeois’s work: far from being menacing, the spider represents her late mother’s strength – an apt metaphor, since she, like a spider, was a weaver. Today, the National Gallery of Canada is one of the few locations where Maman is currently on view.

380 Sussex Drive, Ottawa, Canada, +1 613-990-1985

San Francisco Museum of Modern Art

Museum, Store, Building
Map View
Though unfortunately closed for expansion until 2016, San Francisco’s Museum of Modern Art is home to two very different sculptures by Louise Bourgeois. The first one, Persistent Antagonism,is a simple black and white painted sculpture of an upright pole with a metal ring. The second one, The Nest(1994), is one of Bourgeois’ earliest spider paintings. It depicts not one but four embedded spiders, showing that from the very beginning there was in the artist’s mind a link between spiders and mothers. Until the museum reopens, browse their website to get a glimpse of these pieces.

Steilneset Memorial, Vardø, Norway

Map View
Eyes | © bootbearwdc/Flickr
In the 17th century, 91 people were executed for witchcraft in Northern Norway, with the highest number of accusations being in Vardø. To remember the victims of these executions, a memorial was commissioned, which was a cooperation between Louise Bourgeois and Swiss architect Peter Zumthor. Bourgeois’s contribution, The Damned, The Possessed and The Beloved, was her last major work before her death in 2010. It consists of a chair sitting in a crater, with flames projected through its seat. Seven oval mirrors adorn the metal columns around the chair.

Williams College Museum of Art, Williamstown, Massachusetts

Map View
This museum on the Williams College campus in Massachusetts has a collection of nearly 13 000 artworks. It is known for contemporary art, photography, and paintings from India in particular. For its 75th anniversary, the museum commissioned a permanent outdoors exhibition by Louise Bourgeois, Eyes, comprising nine elements – four pairs of eyes and one big eye cluster in granite and bronze. Some of them double as benches, perfectly fitting their environment by providing not only a space for students and visitors to sit in but also something to reflect on while sitting.

Museum of Modern Art (MoMA), New York City, New York

Art Gallery, Building, Museum, Opera House
Map View
As one of the world’s most famous and influential museums of modern art, MoMA naturally owns much of Louise Bourgeois’s work. It even has an entire online subsite dedicated to her work, documenting every print and book illustration she has created. On view are two pieces: a photogravure from the famous Femme Maison series, and Quarantania I, a sculpture from 1947-53 reassembled in 1981. The latter is a good example of how Louise Bourgeois’s sculptural work was not limited to spiders and could take on a more abstract form.