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Published: 2009-04-15

Sculpted bodies that do not forget their origin

NEWS Louise Bourgeois’ and Rachel Whiteread’s internationally acclaimed artistic works are linked together for the first time in a new dissertation from Umeå University in Sweden.

Louise Bourgeois was born in Paris in 1911. In 1933 she started her artistic training at École des Beaux Arts. After a while she left the school to continue to develop her art at various studios in Montmartre and Montparnasse. In 1938 Louise Bourgeois moved to New York, where she is still active.

Rachel Whiteread was born in 1963 and grew up in London. Like Louise Bourgeois, Rachel Whiteread started her training with painting as her medium, and following painting studies at Brighton Polytechnic, she started to develop her sculptural language as a student at the Slade School of Fine Art in London, the city she still makes her base.

Though Louise Bourgeois started her career a half century before Rachel Whiteread, art historian Linnéa Axelsson finds affinities between these two internationally successful artists’ work.

“My dissertation explores an embracing relationship in their work. It is here we find the key to the powerful corporeal and emotional presence of their sculptures,” says Linnéa Axelsson. “They are sculptures that do not forget their origins in culture and in nature, but rather evince traces of properties, weights, and volumes that preceded them.”

To be able to discover and enter into dialogs with various materials and forms in Louise Bourgeois’ and Rachel Whiteread’s work, Linnéa Axelsson has them follow historical threads, leading, for example, to works by the Renaissance painter Cennino Cennini and the French sculptor Camille Claudel, whose work was done in the decades surrounding the turn of the 20th century.

The existential meanings of the materials and forms set the tone for the interpretations of Louise Bourgeois’ and Rachel Whiteread’s work. They center on views of the body as a boundary between the individual’s internal and external space – an interface that creates and underpins meaning.

“A work of art is linked to human life, but at the same time it has a body of its own, an alien presence,” says Linnéa Axelsson. “I have approach the works with a listening attitude in order to gradually discover how art and the individual touch each other.”

For more information, please contact Linnéa Axelsson by e-mail at or by cell phone: +46 (0)73-823 81 75.

Editor: Helena Vejbrink