Don’t miss Louise Bourgeois’s The Fragile, on view through March 8 on MoMA’s second-floor landing, outside the entrance to the Prints and Illustrated Books Galleries. The Fragile is included in the first 400 works on the Museum’s recently launched online catalogue raisonné, Louise Bourgeois: The Complete Prints & Books.
Bourgeois created The Fragile when she was 95 years old. A series of self portraits from her youth to old age, the work deals with her feelings about motherhood and vulnerability. The artist is well known for her monumental spider sculptures, but the spiders in The Fragile differ from those iconic, strong figures— instead, they are slight and frail. Yet, the spiders in The Fragile are also buoyant, befitting this prolific artist who made work until her death in 2010.
According to Bourgeois’s assistant, Jerry Gorovoy, the artist created the series of drawings that served as the source for the 36 printed compositions of The Fragile in one 9 ½ x 8 inch drawing pad, while sitting in bed. Bourgeois then employed the expertise of Raylene Marasco, of Dye-Namix, to translate the source drawings into prints.
The Fragile is comprised of 29 digital prints and 7 screenprints, all printed on fabric. The source drawings of the 7 screenprints were done in pencil only, whereas the source drawings of the 29 digital prints were done in watercolor, colored pencil, or a combination of watercolor and pencil. According to Marasco, the 7 screenprinted compositions were at first printed digitally but Bourgeois preferred the screenprint technique for these, and liked the combination of the two types of printing, and later, the hand additions, within the series.
Another step in the proofing process was deciding on a range of background tones. At first glance, the varying background tones of the individual compositions seem to be the tones of the fabric itself. In fact, the backgrounds were printed to resemble old fabric.
Once the proofing process was complete, the edition of 7 and 3 artist’s proof sets was printed at Dye-Namix, and their fabric edges were hemmed. Later, at home, Bourgeois added to many of the printed compositions by hand, using archival dyes. Pictured below are three examples of the same composition in three different sets, with varying hand additions.
In 2008, Bourgeois created the unique work pictured below, an untitled variant of no. 3 from The Fragile. This is the only composition from the The Fragile that she incorporated into a new work. However, from 2007 to 2010, she transformed several prints on fabric into unique works. These will be included in the next installment of the online catalogue raisonné, in fall 2013.