Louise Bourgeois

Eyes

2001–5

Artist
Louise Bourgeois 1911–2010
Medium
Pink marble
Dimensions
Object: 229 x 508 x 279 mm, 33 kg
Collection
ARTIST ROOMS
Tate and National Galleries of Scotland. Lent by Anthony d'Offay 2013
On long term loan
Reference
AL00342

Not on display

Summary

Eyes is a sculpture made from pink marble depicting eight disembodied eyes and eyelids brought together in a single object, all appearing to look out in different directions. The eyes are of varying sizes and are sculpted with the largest at the forefront, diminishing in size towards the rear of the object. The work was first displayed to the public as part of the ARTIST ROOMS exhibition Louise Bourgeois: A Woman Without Secrets held at the Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art, Edinburgh, in 2014.

The motif of eyes feature in other works by Bourgeois including Nature Study (Velvet Eyes) 1984 (Collection of Michael and Joan Salke, Boston) and Cell (Eyes and Mirrors) 1989–93 (Tate T06899). Bourgeois’s repeated use of eyes as her subject matter has been read by curator Ann Coxon as a way ‘to question the authority and truthfulness of the gaze’ (quoted in Morris 2007, p.76). The association of the gaze with power, control and the male subject is not obviously replayed in this work. The eyes do return the viewer’s look, but since they are disembodied, ungendered and unfocused their gaze is difficult to characterise in these terms. This sculpture seems to undermine the association of looking with knowledge and power, a designation that often emerges in relation to the body as the seat of emotions. The eyes appear searching, inquisitive and – with the heavy eyelids acting like protective sheaths – perhaps almost threatened.

In Cell (Eyes and Mirrors) Bourgeois used black marble set in limestone to depict an abstracted pair of eyes that appear to gaze out at the viewer. The ‘Cell’ structure of the sculpture is one that has appeared frequently in Bourgeois’s work from the late 1980s onwards. These installations are often constructed using salvaged architectural objects such as doors, windows, panes of glass, wood and, in the case of Cell (Eyes and Mirrors), steel mesh around a steel frame. The large scale of this work contrasts with Eyes, which, with its flesh-like pink marble and swirling forms, seems more playful. In this object, the eyes also appear to be looking in slightly different directions, such that the viewer is not under such intense scrutiny.

The eyelids in this sculpture merge and emerge from indistinct spiral shapes. The spiral form is one that appears frequently in Bourgeois’s work, as in Spirals 2005 (Tate AL00346) and À l’Infini 2008–9 (Tate AL00357). Bourgeois explained her repeated return to the imagery of the spiral and its personal importance to her:

The spiral is important to me. It is a twist. As a child, after washing tapestries in the river, I would turn and twist and ring them … Later I would dream of my father’s mistress. I would do it in my dreams by ringing her neck. The spiral – I love the spiral – represents control and freedom.
(Quoted in Gardner 1994, p.68.)

In this work, the ‘control and freedom’ of the spiral is echoed by the gaze of the eyes, which can represent both control, in that they monitor the viewer, and freedom as they depict a gaze unfiltered by conscious thought.

Further reading
Paul Gardner, Louise Bourgeois, New York 1994.
Frances Morris (ed.), Louise Bourgeois, exhibition catalogue, Tate Modern, London 2007.
Lucy Askew and Anthony d’Offay, Louise Bourgeois: A Woman Without Secrets, exhibition catalogue, National Galleries of Scotland, Edinburgh 2013, reproduced pp.21, 55.

Allan Madden
The University of Edinburgh
February 2015

The University of Edinburgh is a research partner of ARTIST ROOMS.

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