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Louise Bourgeois, the subject of a major retrospective at the Hirshhorn Museum last year, died of a heart attack yesterday in New York at the age of 98. She was best known for her deeply psychological sculptures inspired by childhood memories, sexuality and relationships. Her most famous works are a series of giant bronze spiders that she said were inspired by her mother, a weaver. One is on display in the National Gallery’s sculpture garden. Her work is also in the permanent collections of the Hirshhorn and Corcoran Gallery.
Bourgeois, who found fame late in life, continued to make art throughout her advanced age. Both of the two American-touring retrospectives of her work were organized within the last 20 years of her life. Bourgeois’ sculptures, with their fierceness and femininity, have been cited as an inspiration for a generation of female artists. They’re also the product of a life spent reflecting upon painful memories of a broken home caused by a philandering father and a mother who quietly tolerated his infidelity (one of the works in the recent retrospective, “Cell (Choisy),” contains a model of her childhood home, with a massive guillotine blade poised above, ready to slice it in half). In an ouvre of work that can appear quite menacing from afar, her spiders were actually the most innocuous—-she thought of them as delicate, but also crafty and protective. Stand underneath the one in the sculpture garden, and you’ll feel its power.