But a work like Portrait of Jean-Louis (1947–49)—a painted bronze skyscraper sculpture with long, clothespin legs extending downward that appears alongside Figure and The Sky’s the Limit at MoMA—reconfigures how we understand Bourgeois’s skyscraper motif. It’s not simply an abstraction of her New York surroundings, but a loving reference to her son, Jean-Louis, who was seven when Bourgeois created his “portrait.”
Bourgeois’s art was always a deeply personal reflection of her own history, no matter the subject. Her particular ability was to translate her own desires or anxieties into universal ones. While her sculptures are especially adept at haunting viewers, her print works exact a different approach: They do not spook, but linger—and often, they express female empowerment.
Prints like Femme (2006), for instance, appear simple, but that childlike simplicity ultimately unsettles. The Medusa-like hair of the figures slinks past the work’s borders. Likewise, the wild woman in The Laws of Nature (2006)—naked, with long hair, a pearl necklace, and high heels—cartwheels her male sexual partner around the image. With a comedic smile, she controls her lover, owning the dynamics of sex and power.