Connect with Firenze Made in Tuscany

Sign up our newsletter

Get more inspiration, tips and exclusive itineraries in Florence

Louise Bourgeois MAMAN, 2008 (photo Christopher Burke, © The Easton Foundation/Licensed by S.I.A.E., Italy and VAGA at Artists Rights Society (ARS), NY)

text Francesca Lombardi

June 20, 2024

Louise Bourgeois in Florence

From 22 June to 20 October two major exhibitions at the Museo Novecento and the Museo degli Innocenti

The Museo Novecento celebrates the tenth anniversary of its opening with an exceptional exhibition entitled Do Not Abandon Me, dedicated to Louise Bourgeois, one of the absolute protagonists of 20th and 21st century art. Conceived in close dialogue with the architecture of the former Leopoldine building, the exhibition gives the opportunity to appreciate in person almost one hundred works by the artist, including many on paper, including gouache and drawings, created in the 2000s as well as sculptures of various sizes, in fabric, bronze, marble and other materials. Central to the exhibition is the sculpture, Spider Couple (2003), one of Bourgeois' most famous and emblematic creations, installed in the museum courtyard.

Collaboration with Istituto degli Innocenti has been revived for this special occasioned. Founded in 1419 as a hospital for the specific purpose of housing and caring for children deprived of family care in an environment marked by high artistic and architectural value, the Institute has never interrupted its original mission, and is known for pioneering innovations in services for children and families. The complex designed by Brunelleschi will house Cell XVIII (Portrait), a work of strong visual impact that resonates powerfully with the Innocenti’s history and collection, chosen by Philip Larratt-Smith with Arabella Natalini, director of the Museo degli Innocenti, and Stefania Rispoli, curator of the Museo Novecento.

Louise Bourgeois SPIDER, 2000 (photo: Christopher Burke, © The Easton Foundation/Licensed by S.I.A.E., Italy and VAGA at Artists Rights Society (ARS), NY)

The exhibition Do Not Abandon Me, strongly supported by the director of the Museo Novecento, and planning for which began six years ago, will occupy almost the entirety of the former Leopoldine building, between the galleries on the ground and first floors. It is the most extensive collection of red gouaches by Louise Bourgeois. The exhibition’s title refers to Bourgeois’s powerful and lifelong fear of abandonment, which here relates to the mother-child dyad that sets the pattern for all future relationships. Motherhood and all its anxieties were central to Bourgeois’s conception of herself. At the same time, as old age made her frailer and more dependent upon others, there was an unconscious shift towards the mother in her late work.

Created in the last five years of her career, the gouaches explore the cycles of life through an iconography of sexuality, procreation, birth, motherhood, nutrition, addiction, couples, family unity and flowers. To create them, Bourgeois worked 'wet on wet', which meant giving up a certain control over the final result to embrace the play of chance and destiny. Red, among the favourite and most recurring colours in her work, evokes bodily fluids, such as blood and amniotic fluid, within the gouache. Particularly interesting is Louise Bourgeois's collaboration with British artist Tracey Emin (Margate, 1963). The exhibition presents a series of sixteen digital prints on fabric entitled Do Not Abandon Me (2009-10), resulting from the encounter between the two artists.

Louise Bourgeois CELL XVIII (PORTRAIT), 2000 (photo: Christopher Burke, © The Easton Foundation/Licensed by S.I.A.E., Italy and VAGA at Artists Rights Society (ARS), NY)

Display of the work Spider Couple in the Renaissance cloister is emblematic: designed by Michelozzo and traditionally intended for meditation and contemplation, the cloister houses a sculpture composed of a bronze spider and a marble egg, never exhibited in public before now. Cell XVIII (Portrait) (2000), the "cell" presented at the Museo degli Innocenti, also invites us to meditate and contemplate spaces that were lived in daily in the past, part of the Art Route that unites the gallery above the Brunelleschi-style loggia on the façade and the rooms of the Choir that overlook the ancient Church of Santa Maria degli Innocenti. Although belonging to the same cycle as Peaux de Lapins, the subject contained in Cell XVIII (Portrait) seems to reinterpret the iconography of the Madonna della Misericordia, recurring in some of the collection’s most emblematic works and strongly representative of the Institution's vocation for welcoming. The work dialogues with this mission, in spaces where different stories echo, imbued with desires and fears expressed by Bourgeois herself, which here, however, do not exclude the possible fulfilment of an expectation.

You may be interested


Connect with Firenze Made in Tuscany