Louise Bourgeois is one of the two pre-eminent sculptors working today; the other is Richard Serra, whose sculpture - single-minded, monolithic, public - offers the most striking contrast to hers in both form and content. Serra is Isaiah Berlin's hedgehog exemplified in heavy metal: Louise Bourgeois is the fox, an artist of many devices, to borrow a Homeric epithet which suits her perfectly. Bourgeois's career is marked by an almost infinite variety, ranging from direct carving, primitivism and elegant surfaces in the work of the late 1940s and early 1950s - 'Brancusi meets Giacometti meets Arp meets a ghostly family in a Dogon village,' as Anne Wagner has put it - to the deliberately regressive work of the 1960s: muddy twists of plaster or latex, reminiscent of entrails, faeces or other bodily excrescences. These in turn led to the production of such icons of the informe as Fillette of about 1968, a 'two-foot-long latex phallus hung from a hook', in the words of Mignon Nixon writing in October, and the exemplary rough-surfaced, double-headed (or double-buttocked or breasted) Janus fleuri, Surrealist in its metamorphic perversity but classical in its reference and its bronze symmetry.
LRB 4 April 2002 | PDF Download