Louise Bourgeois - 20th Century & Contemporary Art Evening Sale New York Wednesday, June 23, 2021 | Phillips

Create your first list.

Select an existing list or create a new list to share and manage lots you follow.

  • "The spiral is an attempt at controlling the chaos. It has two directions. Where do you place yourself, at the periphery or at the vortex?" 
    —Louise Bourgeois

    Louise Bourgeois at work, 1967. Image: Studio Fotografico, Carrara, Artwork: © The Easton Foundation/VAGA at Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York

    At once geometric and biomorphic, masculine and feminine, interior and exterior, Labyrinthine Tower is one of Louise Bourgeois’ most well-known forms. Labyrinthine Tower marks the artist’s return to sculpture in the early 1960s after a nine-year hiatus when she began experimenting with plaster and other pliable media to develop intricate spiraling formations, which would become a recurring theme in her oeuvre. Evolving from its base with a centrifugal force, Labyrinthine Tower combines the architectonic construction of her earlier work with a softness of organic drooping. In 1962, Bourgeois conceived two eponymous plaster casts of differing sizes and created variants in iron, bronze, and marble. The present work is from an edition of five cast-iron iterations executed in 1967. Anticipating the artist’s phallic and implicitly sexual works of the later 1960s, Labyrinthine Tower “prefigured the future direction of her sculpture.”i


    Spiraling In

    "Beginning at the outside is the fear of losing control; the winding in is a tightening, a retreating, a compacting to the point of disappearance." 
    —Louise Bourgeois

    Georgia O’Keeffe, Abstraction, 1946, cast 1979-1980. The Georgia O’Keeffe Museum, Santa Fe, Image: Georgia O'Keeffe Museum, Santa Fe / Art Resource, NY, Artwork: © Georgia O'Keeffe Museum, Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York

    The helicoid structure of Labyrinthine Tower showcases the significance of spiral forms in Bourgeois’ practice. Holding a deeply personal resonance, the spiral was, in Bourgeois’ words, a “study of the self.”ii The deconstructed torsion metaphorically reflected at once her anguished psyche and her liberation from it: “The spiral is important to me. It is a twist. As a child, after washing tapestries in the river, I would turn and twist and ring them with three others or more to ring the water out. Later I would dream of getting rid of my father’s mistress. I would do it in my dreams by ringing her neck. The spiral – I love the spiral – represents control and freedom.”iii For Bourgeois, the reflexive solution to avoid spiraling out of control was to control the spiral by creating it, as she wrote in a diary entry from 1986: “inward spiral tightens + tightens / Control of “attack of anxiety” / “through understanding the geneses of it.”iv With Labyrinthine Tower and her other spiral sculptures, she “attempted to make visible psychological states such as fear, vulnerability, and loss of control, as well as basic instincts and forms of behavior, including withdrawal, hiding, protection, sheltering, and nurturing.”v


    Spiraling Out

    "Beginning at the center is affirmation, the move outward is a representation of giving, and giving up control; of trust, positive energy, of life itself." 
    —Louise Bourgeois

    Constantin Brancusi, Princess X, 1915-1916. Philadelphia Museum of Art, Image: The Philadelphia Museum of Art / Art Resource, NY, Artwork: © Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York / ADAGP, Paris

    Embodying a shift in her oeuvre from exteriority to interiority, Bourgeois’ sculptures of the 1960s also anticipated her interest in deconstructive hybridity through fusing relationships of opposite forces. “Her forms no longer emerged by subtraction, but rather by addition, starting from an inner core, moving from center to edges,” Marie-Laure Bernadac observed.vi “Suspension replaced erection, softness replaced hardness, liquid replaced solid, inner replaced outer.”vii This deliberate inversion was at the crux of Bourgeois’ mind on a macroscale, as she once journaled, “control of the space....the center of gravity to change from the container toward the contained.”viii In Labyrinthine Tower, the structural rigor progressively dissolves into an organic amorphism from base to peak, encapsulating Bourgeois’ hybrid evocations of architecture and flesh—epitomized in the present work’s cast-iron form.


    Towards a Mutable Identity


    Hans Bellmer, La Poupée, ca. 1936. The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, Image: © The Metropolitan Museum of Art. Image source: Art Resource, NY, Artwork: © 2021 Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York

    Prefiguring the artist’s phallic and implicitly sexual works of the later 1960s, Labyrinthine Tower captures her concerns with the mutability of sexual identity and gender. Despite the phallic invocation, Bourgeois viewed the labyrinthine twisting as “a feminine geometry.”ix “A torsade is something that revolves around an axis. This geometry is founded on poetic freedom and promises security.”x Robert Storr spoke of the amorphic quality of the artist’s work during this period, stating, “In Bourgeois’ restless hands, Surrealist biomorphism thus allowed not only for allusions to, or alternate representations of, the body, but for a fundamental remaking of the world in which simple elements…could be made to change identity or referent according to its ‘behaviour’ in isolation or in groups. At any given moment, such an element might suggest the geographical or geological, the vegetal or the animal, the male or the female.”xi Cohering the body and identity, the material and organic, life and art, Labyrinthine Tower exudes the energetic force captured in Bourgeois’ words: “I am involved in a kind of spiral, a spiral motion of motivation.”xii


    i Marie-Laure Bernadac, Louise Bourgeois, Paris, 1996, p. 67.
    ii Louise Bourgeois, quoted in Paulo Herkenhoff, “Louise Bourgeois, Femme-Temps,” in Louise Bourgeois: Blue Days and Pink Days, exh. cat., Fondazione Prada, Milan, 1997, p. 273.
    iii Paul Gardner, Louise Bourgeois, New York, 1994, p. 68.
    iv Louise Bourgeois, diary entry, December 23, 1986, quoted in Louise Bourgeois: Spiral, exh. cat., Cheim & Reid, New York, 2018, p. 56.
    v Deborah Wye, Louise Bourgeois, exh. cat., Museum of Modern Art, New York, 1982, p. 24.
    vi Marie-Laure Bernadac, Louise Bourgeois, Paris, 1996, p. 66.
    vii Ibid.
    Louise Bourgeois, diary entry, September 16, 1957, quoted in Louise Bourgeois: Spiral, exh. cat., Cheim & Reid, New York, 2018, p. 34.
    ix Louise Bourgeois, quoted in Paulo Herkenhoff, “Louise Bourgeois, Femme-Temps,” in Louise Bourgeois: Blue Days and Pink Days, exh. cat., Fondazione Prada, Milan, 1997, p. 11.
    x Ibid.
    xi Robert Storr, “Abstraction: L’Esprit géométrique,” in Louise Bourgeois, exh. cat., Tate Gallery, London, 2007, p. 32.
    xii Louise Bourgeois, quoted in Donald Kuspit, “Interview with Louise Bourgeois,” in Bourgeois, New York, 1988, p. 45.

    • Provenance

      The Artist
      Galerie Lelong, Zurich
      Acquired from the above by the present owner in 1993

    • Exhibited

      New York, The Sculptors Guild Inc., Lever House, Sculpture 1964, October 18 - November 26, 1964 (another example exhibited; plaster cast illustrated, p. 8)
      New York, The Sculptors Guild Inc., Lever House, Thirtieth Anniversary Exhibition, October 22 - November 19, 1967, p. 4 (another example exhibited; plaster cast illustrated, p. 10)
      New York, 112 Greene Street, Louise Bourgeois: Sculpture 1970-1974, December 14 – December 26, 1974 (another example exhibited)
      New York, Grey Art Gallery, New York University, Selections from the New York University Art Collection, September 22 – October 16, 1976 (another example exhibited)
      New York, Grey Art Gallery, New York University, Small Sculpture, February 1 - March 31, 1981 (another example exhibited)
      The Renaissance Society, The University of Chicago, Louise Bourgeois: Femme Maison, May 3 – June 6, 1981, no. 22 (another example exhibited)
      New York, Museum of Modern Art (plaster cast exhibited, pl. 83, p. 121; illustrated, p. 70; artist's studio, New York, installation view illustrated, p. 115); Houston, Contemporary Arts Museum; Chicago, Museum of Contemporary Art; Akron Art Museum, Louise Bourgeois: Retrospective, November 3, 1982 – January 5, 1984, no. 68
      New York, Jamaica Arts Center, Sculpture from the Collection of the Grey Art Gallery and Study Center, September 24 - December 10, 1983 (another example exhibited)
      Paris, Maeght-Lelong; Zurich, Maeght-Lelong; London, Serpentine Gallery, Louise Bourgeois: Retrospektive 1947-1984, February - June 23, 1985, no. 16, n.p. (another example exhibited; black marble cast illustrated)

    • Artist Biography

      Louise Bourgeois

      French-American • 1911 - 2010

      Known for her idiosyncratic style, Louise Bourgeois was a pioneering and iconic figure of twentieth and early twenty-first century art. Untied to an art historical movement, Bourgeois was a singular voice, both commanding and quiet.

      Bourgeois was a prolific printmaker, draftsman, sculptor and painter. She employed diverse materials including metal, fabric, wood, plaster, paper and paint in a range of scale — both monumental and intimate. She used recurring themes and subjects (animals, insects, architecture, the figure, text and abstraction) as form and metaphor to explore the fragility of relationships and the human body. Her artworks are meditations of emotional states: loneliness, jealousy, pride, anger, fear, love and longing.

      View More Works


Labyrinthine Tower

cast with the artist's initials "LB" left edge
cast iron
18 x 10 x 12 in. (45.7 x 25.4 x 30.5 cm)
Conceived in 1962 and cast circa 1967, this work is number 3 from an edition of 5.

Another example is housed in the permanent collection of the Grey Art Gallery, New York University.

Full Cataloguing

$550,000 - 750,000 

Sold for $756,000

Contact Specialist

Amanda Lo Iacono
Head of Auctions
New York
+1 212 940 1278


20th Century & Contemporary Art Evening Sale

New York Auction 23 June 2021