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Abstract Expressionist Sculpture

Explore how sculptors took on the challenges of Abstract Expressionism

Sleeping Figure

Louise Bourgeois
(American, born France. 1911–2010)

1950. Painted balsa wood, 6' 2 1/2" x 11 5/8" x 11 3/4" (189.2 x 29.5 x 29.7 cm)

Louise Bourgeois was born in France in 1911 and relocated to New York in 1938, where she would live for the rest of her life. Although the sculptor was influenced by Surrealism’s interest in the mythology and the unconscious and she worked alongside Abstract Expressionists, Bourgeois created work that defies classification. Her art often deals with themes related to family, memory, loneliness, and vulnerability.

Part of the Personages series, Sleeping Figure is one of over 80 wooden sculptures she made between 1945 and 1950 to represent the family and friends she had left behind in her native country. In this work, Bourgeois reduced the human figure into three long oval shapes, flanked by thin poles, and then unified the shapes with a coat of black paint. She once said of her sculptures, “The look of my figures is abstract, and to the spectator they may not appear to be figures at all. They are the expression, in abstract terms, of emotions and states of awareness.”1

Louise Bourgeois, “Artist’s Statement,” in Reading Abstract Expressionism: Context and Critique, Ellen G. Landau, ed., New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 2005.

A three-dimensional work of art made by a variety of means, including carving wood, chiseling stone, casting or welding metal, molding clay or wax, or assembling materials.

In popular writing about psychology, the division of the mind containing the sum of all thoughts, memories, impulses, desires, feelings, etc., that are not subject to a person’s perception or control but that often affect conscious thoughts and behavior (noun). The Surrealists derived much inspiration from psychoanalyst Sigmund Freud’s theories on dreams and the workings of the subconscious mind.