NEW YORK - Artist Louise Bourgeois, whose sculptures exploring women's deepest feelings on birth, sexuality and death were highly influential on younger artists, died yesterday, her studio's managing director said. She was 98.
Bourgeois had continued creating artwork - her latest pieces were finished just last week - before suffering a heart attack Saturday night, said the studio director, Wendy Williams. The artist died at Beth Israel Medical Center in Manhattan, where she lived.
Working in a wide variety of materials, she tackled themes relating to male and female bodies and emotions of anger, betrayal, even murder.
"I really want to worry people, to bother people," she told the Washington Post in 1984. "They say they are bothered by the double genitalia in my new work. Well, I have been bothered by it my whole life. I once said to my children, 'It's only physiological, you know, the sex drive.' That was a lie. It's much more than that."
Bourgeois' work was almost unknown to the wider art world until she was 70, when New York's Museum of Modern Art presented a solo show of her career in 1982.
"This is not a show that is easy to digest," New York Times critic Grace Glueck wrote. "The reward is an intense encounter with an artist who explores her psyche at considerable risk."
Among the honors coming to her were a National Medal of Arts, awarded by President Clinton in 1997. In October, she was inducted into the National Women's Hall of Fame in Seneca Falls, N.Y.
In 2001, thousands of tourists saw her work "Spiders" when it was exhibited on the plaza at Rockefeller Center for 2 1/2 months as part of a Public Art Fund program to promote outdoor exhibits in New York.
It featured a 30-foot-high spider, "Maman," carrying a basket of eggs, flanked by two smaller spiders. ("Maman" means "Mama" in French.)
In 2007-08, an elaborate retrospective of her career, from the 1940s onward, was displayed at the Tate Modern in London, the Georges Pompidou Center in Paris and the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum in New York.
In many interviews, Bourgeois cited a childhood trauma as the source of much of the emotion in her work: her father's affair with a woman hired as an English tutor for young Louise.
"You see, I always hated that woman," she told the Washington Post. " . . . My work is often about murder."
Bourgeois was born in Paris in 1911; her parents ran a business restoring antique tapestries. In her early years, she studied at the Academie des Beaux-Arts and other schools and studios.
She moved to New York in 1938 after marrying the American art historian Robert Goldwater and became an American citizen in 1955. A professor of art history at New York University, Goldwater was also director of the Museum of Primitive Art, established in 1957, and wrote a key book on the topic, "Primitivism in Modern Art."
"My husband said 15 years ago that primitive art is no longer being made," she told the Washington Post in 1984. "The primitive condition has vanished. These are recent works. Look at it this way - a totem pole is just a decorated tree. My work is a confessional."