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The Blind Leading the Blind

Photo Credit: Rich Sanders, Des Moines

The Blind Leading the Blind

Artist: Louise Bourgeois (French-American, 1911 - 2010)
Date: 1947-1949
Medium: Painted wood
Overall: 74 x 96 x 18 in. (188 x 243.8 x 45.7 cm.)
Credit Line: Purchased with funds from the National Endowment for the Arts and the Coffin Fine Arts Trust; Nathan Emory Coffin Collection of the Des Moines Art Center, 1989.4
Accession number: 1989.4
Classification: sculpture
Copyright:Art © Louise Bourgeois Trust/ Licensed by VAGA, New York, NY
In Collection(s)
Label TextThe Blind Leading the Blind is influenced by incidents from Bourgeois's childhood and early artistic development. Several of her later works relate directly to it for inspiration. In all Bourgeois created six works by this title, one of which was destroyed. Bourgeois was born in Paris in 1911. Her family owned a tapesty restoration business. As a child, Bourgeois repaired the lower portions of the tapestries, which usually depicted the legs of humans or horses. Her early concentration on objects that were vertically fragmented and depicted legs was influential for the slatted construction of The Blind Leading the Blind. In 1932 Bourgeois entered the Sorbonne to study mathematics, particularly geometry. Her involvement in this discipline is evident in her geometric abstractions. Bourgeois abandoned mathematics for art, studying briefly at the ecole des Beaux-Arts. She also studied art history at the Ecole du Louvre. In 1938 Bourgeois married Robert Goldwater, an American art historian of primitive and modern sculpture. They moved to New York that year and Bourgeois began studying painting at the Art Students League. Around 1945 she began to investigate Surrealism and explore the psychological impact of her upbringing. Also, Bourgeois developed an interest in feminism. Source: News, November December 1989.
Bourgeois’ work is intense and mysterious, often made from unusual materials in jarring colors. Pink appears frequently, as the artist believed it contrasted with traditional ideas about what was suitable for art. She made several works in this long-legged, comb-like shape, but very few are pink. Bourgeois was raised in a family of tapestry workers, and its shape may resemble the tools they used to weave threads into images. The title quotes the Christian Bible, and the precariously balanced, multiple legs may reference soldiers and the tragedy of men following each other into war. The work dates to not long after World War II, in which the artist witnessed her city’s invasion by German forces. Ultimately, though, the sculpture is abstract, and is open to the viewer’s response to its strong presence. July 22, 2020
Exhibition History"Body Personal: Louise Bourgeois and Kiki Smith," Des Moines Art Center, July 17 - Oct. 3, 1999

"Commitment, Community and Controversy: The Des Moines Art Center Collections," Des Moines Art Center, Jan. 24 - May 10, 1998

"Louise Bourgeois," Museo de Arte Contemporaneo de Monterrey, A.C., Monterrey, Mexico, June 16, 1995 - Feb. 15, 1996

"The Abstract Tradition in American Art," Des Moines Art Center, Dec. 7, 1991 - Feb. 23, 1992

"Louise Bourgeois," Henry Art Gallery, University of Washington, Seattle, WA, 1989

"Louise Bourgeois," Gallery Paule Anglim, San Francisco, Nov. 4 - Dec. 5, 1987

"Louise Bourgeois," Serpentine Gallery, London, May 18 - June 23, 1985 (one-person show)
Published References"New Exhibitions: Commitment, Community, and Controversy," DMAC News, Jan./Feb. 1998, ref. & b/w ill. p.3

Richard D. Marshall, "Louise Bourgeois," Museo de Arte Contemporaneo de Monterey, 1995, exh. cat. b/w ill. p.58

Lois Nesbitt, "Louise Bourgeois," ART AND ANTIQUES, Feb. 1993, color ill.

AN UNCOMMON VISION: THE DES MOINES ART CENTER, Des Moines Art Center, 1998, ref. p.65, color ill. pp.64 & 65
entirely unexpected