Louise Bourgeois in Her Final Years at Work and at Home in New York

By Jake Cigainero, Pctober 15, 2015

By Jake Cigainero, October 15, 2015

Over the course of 11 years and 10 visits, French photographer Jean-François Jaussaud photographed Louise Bourgeois in her Brooklyn studio and her Chelsea apartment. An exhibition at Galerie Elizabeth Royer in Paris now shares that rare glimpse into the final years of Bourgeois’ life and work.

A sculptor friend suggested Jaussaud meet Bourgeois in 1994 and gave him her number. He was not yet aware the privilege of access he had been so easily granted. “I didn’t even know who she was,” Jaussaud said. “I was very afraid first seeing the spider sculpture. But for her it wasn’t something aggressive, but protective.”
After taking his name, his address and his date of birth, Bourgeois accepted Jaussaud’s proposal to shoot in her studio under one condition: she had to see everything. If she didn’t approve she would destroy everything. But luckily the photographs survived her iron fist control. In one photograph, Bourgeois sits at her studio desk, grinning, as if a grandmother welcoming family to come into her home, others she stands in turn triumphantly beneath her arachnid sculpture « Maman, » or has a cheeky, self-pleased smile with her hands on her piece “Eyes,” two granite boulders that more closely resemble breasts.

“But she could change very, very fast,” Jaussaud said. “She could be posed and five minutes later become a fury.”
Once she threw a tantrum for reasons unknown to him and disappeared to her office. He was sure it was the end. But she returned smiling and wearing a white hat. “It’s fine,” she said. “You can go ahead now, I’m protected.”
Two candid shots in the exhibition are particularly moving. One is Bourgeois sitting in solitude, her back to the camera and contemplating the afternoon light and street life outside her window. She could be anyone.
In the other, Jaussaud captured an intimate moment between Bourgeois and her longtime assistant and friend Jerry Gorovoy, cradling each others’ hands. They are planning Bourgeois’ piece “The Welcoming Hands, » which is now installed in the Tuileries Garden.

Jaussaud’s series also offers a glimpse into the private world of Bourgeois’ Chelsea on home.
Although she was successful at the end of her life, Bourgeois lived humbly. The photo of her bedroom shows an unmade bed, books lining shelves and strewn about. Under the battered nightstand sits a bucket of plaster of Paris.
“Her private home was almost like an extension of her atelier,” Jaussaud said. “She was always doing something with her hands.”

Bourgeois held informal salons on Sunday at home for 30 years. “Anyone could come,” said Jaussaud. Friends, young artists, writers and collectors would come and share the afternoon. The final photo in the exhibit, taken in 2006 during Jaussaud’s last visit during one of the salons, is a double image – a ghostly negative and its developed ­photo – of Bourgeois seated at her dining table, face in hands, appearing exhausted but content.
Jaussaud said he had planned at the beginning of 2010 to visit Bourgeois that June, but she died May 31.

“Photographs of Louise Bourgeois, 1995-2006” is on show until October 25.