No exit

  • 1989
  • Louise Bourgeois
  • Painted metal, wood and rubber
  • 2 m x 2 m x 2,5 m

In its starkness and austerity, No Exit (1989) remains one of the key works of the late 1980s. It is inspired by a childhood memory, when the Louise Bourgeois hid under the stairs to spy on her father. A sheet metal screen surrounds a flight of stairs that lead nowhere, at the foot of which are two large wooden spheres. Explicit reference to the figure of the father, the work evokes the male reproductive system and/or the entrance to a large house. The house contains all the childhood memories of Louise Bourgeois, whose family life was volatile due to her father’s erratic behavior, and his cheating on Louise’s mother with the artist’s English au pair. This piece symbolizes the interior/exterior duality, the interiorization of emotions and the exteriorization of feelings. The title No Exit highlights the irreversible nature of childhood traumas and the weight of the secrecy surrounding them. However, the artist hung two rubber hearts inside the staircase, evoking the vital importance of love. 

© The Easton Foundation / Adagp, Paris 2020 © Primae / David Bordes © The Easton Foundation / Adagp, Paris 2020 © Primae / David Bordes


Louise Bourgeois

Born in France, Louise Bourgeois emigrated to the United States in 1938 with the American art historian Robert Goldwater whom she had just married. Throughout her life, the artist drew inspiration from her own life—difficult relationship with her father, nostalgia for her native land, hysteria, fear, etc.—for the psychological and emotional themes of her works.

Her belated recognition (retrospective at MoMa in 1982) had a stimulating effect on her work, which continues to influence artists today. 

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