Fabric and stainless steel
61 x 28 x 25.5 cm / 24 x 11 x 10 in
Stainless steel, glass and wood vitrine: 188 x 61 x 61 cm / 74 x 24 x 24 in
Incised into base lower right: LB
Louise Bourgeois’ art inextricably entwines personal experience and artistic expression – the roots of which can be traced to her own life. ‘Couple’ (2004) is an extraordinary fabric sculpture that examines many of the central themes that preoccupied Bourgeois’ visual vocabulary throughout her career. Embracing tightly and intimately, ‘Couple’ presents the muted peach-pink bodies of a nude man and woman engaged in a copulatory act – she straddles his thighs, face-to-face, one’s nose nuzzling the other’s, their arms wrapped around each other.
Bourgeois placed the couple on top of a cold and upright steel base, which intensifies the exposed and tender vulnerability that the hand-stitched pair shares. In this childlike sexual theatre, erotic power is depicted realistically, in totally explicit fashion, yet the figures appear bandaged, as if a self-portrait in old age, illness and fragility.Read more +
Although couples have appeared in Bourgeois’ work since the 1940s, the artist only seriously developed the motif in the late 1990s, beginning an on-going examination into how human beings attempt and fail to connect with each other. As Marie-Laure Bernadac has explained, Bourgeois’ late-in-life obsession with the couple ‘is a sign of an ambivalence towards erotic impulses found in her works, which oscillate between attraction and repulsion. Bourgeois’ approach is for the most part characterised by the relationship between ‘one and others’ but the erotic relations between man and woman are a central component of her oeuvre. This theme includes the need for love and tenderness, a fear of abandonment and above all, an acknowledgement (despite everything) of the benefits of living life as part of a couple, the latter translating into a rehabilitation of the role of Robert Goldwater in her family life’. 
Bourgeois herself elaborated ‘Are they fighting? Are they enjoying themselves? Is one killing the other? It refers to the age when I could not understand what they were doing, what they saw in each other, and what they were pursuing in each other. It is the question of an arrested traumatic experience’.  Tenderly rendered, hand-sewn and patched together, her couple was related to the primal scene and to the view she had brought, as a child, to the taboo of sexuality. Instead of being a desired one, the sexuality present in Bourgeois’ works was rather disturbing, dreaded, traumatic even. In ‘Couple’, the two cloth mannequins, as if wounded or wrapped like mummies, indulge in an unambiguous sexual intercourse, yet their stiff bodies and the cold-surfaced steel support undermine the intimacy and desired marriage between one and the other. The artist leads us a long way through labyrinthine paths, toward the place of origin – the magnetic emotional pole between her parents, the trauma of her father’s affair, and the fractured and unsettled family life. Stitched with a nostalgic and bittersweet sense of child-like fragility, ‘Couple’ embodies Bourgeois’ gaze into the fantastical theatre of life’s sensual and lustful pleasures.
The act of sewing, which has always held a special significance for the artist, became more than a symbolic gesture in her late career. As she turned to stitching together sculptures from household fabrics, Bourgeois attempted to effect psychological repair of the unabated memories that devastated her youth; she explained: ‘I always had the fear of being separated and abandoned. The sewing is my attempt to keep things together and make things whole’.  Linked to her mother’s craft of tapestry, fabric had been had been a trigger for early trauma as well as the vehicle with which she tracked down her identity. As she stitched the broken and disjointed beings, she put together the fragments of herself that loneliness and abandonment had scattered. In ‘Couple’, a sculpture evoking desire and dependency, their bodies join them together, forever inseparable from their triangle of familial relations.
 Frances Morris (ed.), ‘Louise Bourgeois’, London/UK: Tate Publishing, 2007, p. 92.
 Ibid, p. 90.
Edition of 7 + 3 APs
Each: 29.2 x 24.1 cm / 11 1/2 x 9 1/2 in
Emotionally and psychologically striking, ‘The Fragile’ (2007) masterfully captures the intimate and deeply personal themes that occupied Bourgeois throughout her illustrious career, including the often complex and vulnerable relationship between mother and child. ‘The Fragile’ consists of a suite of thirty-six mixed media compositions. The images, a mixture of digital and screen prints created with archival dyes on cream fabric, were used by Bourgeois as a creative springboard to paint or draw over in red or blue dye. Through her innovative process, Bourgeois created a masterwork that is truly unique; it is simultaneously primeval and structured, simple and emotive. Variants of this work are held in the permanent collections of the Museum of Modern Art, New York, and the Ludwig Museum, Cologne.Read more +
Bourgeois’s print and fabric works, such as ‘The Fragile’, often reflect on her childhood and familial relationships. In ‘The Fragile’, each composition consists of a single abstract and unassuming figure created in delicate lines of red or blue which meditate on central themes from the artist’s practice: the psychological strains of being both a mother and a child. There is a certain simplicity inherent to Bourgeois’s careful, single-colored line and illustrative style, which is imbued with a sense of tension as well as fragility. These figures are striking, startling, and varied in their physicality: one female figure may consist simply of an anguished face and pendulous breasts, while next to her lies a frail and spindly spider, legs splayed in all directions and intense rage painted across its face. Many of the artist’s memories center around her family’s tapestry repair workshop, where Bourgeois grew up surrounded by women sewing, embroidering and repairing fabrics. As she recalled: ‘I became an artist, whether I wanted to or not, when my parents, who repaired Aubusson tapestries, needed someone to draw on canvas for the weavers’.  Often, Bourgeois utilized the spider as an allusion to her own mother, who not only ran the family business but was also a weaver and restorer of antique tapestries in her own right. This signature motif is widespread throughout her practice and is the subject of monumental Spider works such as ‘Maman (1994)’. However, in this sequential suite, ‘the spider differs from the strong and imposing figure found in Bourgeois’s sculpture. It is now disintegrating and feeble – manifesting the confusion and ambivalence that the artist associates with mothering and also being a recipient of care. Ultimately, for Bourgeois the dynamics of providing care for another [was] fraught with overarching feelings of responsibility, vulnerability, and anxiety, as much when she was a child as it is for a woman in her mid-90s.’ 
Created in 2007, ‘The Fragile’ not only revisited old psychological ground for the artist, but it also drove her work, and printmaking itself, into breath-taking new territory. At this time, Bourgeois entered a lively and highly experimental phase of printmaking, undertaking the execution of intricate, multifaceted works such as ‘The Fragile’. Printmaking bookended Bourgeois’s artistic practice, constituting a cyclical return to the work of her youth. In both instances, Bourgeois
was confined to the home: at first, as a mother of three young boys and at last in old age, when she worked from home. It was also at this time that Bourgeois created her own publishing imprint, Lison Editions, a reference to her childhood nickname. With Lison Editions, Bourgeois published three pivotal projects between 2006 and 2007, of which the ‘The Fragile’ is most monumental.
Thus, ‘The Fragile’ is a unique masterpiece that not only provides a reflection on the breadth of Bourgeois’s working practice – in particular, her everchanging innovation and contribution to the artistic process – but also sheds light on the subjects and narratives that underpinned her work throughout her career: familial relationships, sexuality and the body, as well as death and the unconscious. These late works provided Bourgeois with the opportunity to retrospectively replay, reprise and replicate the psychological distress and anxieties that overwhelmed her youth and preoccupied her as an adult. In the last years of her life, she perhaps approached a coming-to-terms with these themes in her works, of which ‘The Fragile’ is exemplary.
[1.] Louise Bourgeois, Marie-Louise Bernadac, Hans-Ulrich Obrist, Destruction of the Father/Reconstruction of the Father: Writings and Interviews 1923-1997, London 1998, p. 126.
[2.] Louise Bourgeois Studio Notes in Deborah Wye and Carol Smith, ‘Louise Bourgeois. The Complete Prints & Books’, The Museum of Modern Art, cat. no. 17-52 (online cat. rais.), https://www.moma.org/s/lb/collection_lb/object/object_objid-129798.html.
‘Drawings are thought feathers, they are ideas that I seize in mid-flight and put down on paper.’
Born in France in 1911, and working in America from 1938 until her death in 2010, Louise Bourgeois is recognized as one of the most important and influential artists of the twentieth century. For over seven decades, Bourgeois’s creative process was fueled by an introspective reality, often rooted in cathartic re-visitations of early childhood trauma and frank examinations of female sexuality. The conceptual and stylistic complexity of Bourgeois’s oeuvre plays upon the powers of association, memory, fantasy, and fear.