Louise Bourgeois - Living the Avant-Garde: The Triton Collection Foundation, Evening Sale Part I New York Tuesday, November 14, 2023 | Phillips

Create your first list.

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

  • Though named for feminine anatomy, Louise Bourgeois’ Tits, 1967-1982, is an ambiguously gendered sculpture. The black marble work, shaped like two footballs fused together, recalls both breasts and the base of a phallus; its anatomical corollary is further confused by its abstracted form. Bourgeois’ Tits sit in the round, detached from the human body, a sculpted object with heavy psychoanalytical connotations.


    Bourgeois conceived of Tits in 1967, and executed the first editions of the sculpture in plaster and onyx that same year. Concurrently, she began working with marble in Italy, and enjoyed how the medium expressed the softness of skin.The present work was created in 1982, the year of the artist’s traveling retrospective exhibition at the Museum of Modern Art, New York—Bourgeois was the first female sculptor to receive such an honor. A bronze edition of Tits resides in the shared collection of the National Galleries of Scotland and the Tate Modern, London.

    “I have fun carving marble. I can’t destroy it. I’m not going to be destroyed either, by the way.”
    —Louise Bourgeois
    Tits draws on a rich art history of sculpted bodies, and attendant associations of sensuality, objectification, and desire. The crude title—not breasts, but Tits—speaks to the ambivalence of women’s position in heterosexual relationships, as both objects of an often violent, patriarchal desire, and as individuals with their own sexual agency. For Bourgeois, black marble was the ideal medium to work through this ambivalence: “there’s a great element of pleasure in the black marble,” she explained in a 1982 interview, “the pleasure to hack away at something which offers enough resistance…attacking a material that can resist you. And this has a direct symbolism with human relations.”ii


    Sarah Goodridge, Beauty Revealed, 1828. The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York. Image: © The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York,  Gift of Gloria Manney, 2006, 2006.235.74

    Known for a wide-ranging oeuvre that mines her own trauma and relationships to gender and motherhood, Tits reveals the role of Freudian psychoanalysis in Bourgeois’ work. Bourgeois participated in psychoanalytic therapy for fifteen years, and found the practice useful for working through her past, and expressing it in her art.iii As art historian Rosalind Krauss writes, Tits functions, in psychoanalytic terms, as a “part-object,” a part of the body that becomes objectified at infancy: “For the newborn, suckling divides the mother’s breast from its bodily support, separating the organ from her as the target to satisfy the infant’s needs. The world of the infant splinters into such part-objects: its own desiring organs as well as their reciprocal targets: so many breasts, mouths, bellies…”iv Tits draws on this separation, as a body part isolated from the body, so abstracted, that its legibility as sculpted breasts is called into question.

     “There has always been a sexual suggestiveness in my work. Sometimes I am totally concerned with female shapes… but often I merge the imagery—phallic breasts, male and female, active and passive.”
    —Louise Bourgeois

    The gendered ambiguity of Tits is emblematic of Bourgeois’ approach to sculpture from the 1960s onwards. Bourgeois found rich meaning in forms that could read as both male and female at once, as a visual representation of the ambivalent emotions she herself felt towards human sexuality. Complex and multivalent, Bourgeois’ Tits move beyond corporeal representation, towards the expression of an emotional, embodied state.


    Constantin Brancusi, Male Torso, 1917. Cleveland Museum of Art. Image: © Cleveland Museum of Art / Hinman B. Hurlbut Collection / Bridgeman Images, Artwork: © 2023 Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York



    i Margherita Leoni-Figini, “Louise Bourgeois,” Centre Pompidou, 2008, online.

    ii Louise Bourgeois (1982), quoted in Barbara Flug Colin, “A Conversation with Louise Bourgeois,” Frigate: The Transverse Review of Books, 2000, online.

    iii Bourgeois, quoted in Juliet Mitchell, “Love and Hate, Girl and Boy,” The London Review of Books, vol. 35, no. 21, Nov. 6, 2014, online.

    iv Rosalind Krauss, quoted in Allan Madden, “Louise Borgeois: Tits, 1967,” Tate, Feb. 2015, online.

    • Description

      Please see main sale page for guarantee notice https://www.phillips.com/auctions/auction/NY011123

    • Provenance

      The Artist
      Cheim & Read, New York
      Peter Blum Gallery, New York (acquired from the above in 2000)
      Acquired from the above by the present owner in 2009

    • Exhibited

      Los Angeles, Daniel Weinberg Gallery, Louise Bourgeois, November 17–December 1, 1984
      Cincinnati, The Taft Museum; Miami, Frost Art Museum at Florida International University; Austin, Laguna Gloria Art Museum; St. Louis, Henry Art Gallery, Washington University; Syracuse, Everson Museum of Art, Louise Bourgeois, May 5, 1987–November 26, 1989, n.p.
      Humlebæk, Louisiana Museum of Modern Art, Louise Bourgeois: Life as Art, February 15–June 22, 2003, no. 20, pp. 36, 78 (illustrated, p. 36; dated 1967-1968)
      The Hague, Gemeentemuseum, Bellmer / Bourgeois – Double Sexus: Supplemental Installation, September 11, 2010–January 16, 2011, p. 147 (illustrated)
      Rotterdam, Kunsthal, Avant-gardes 1870 to the present: The Collection of the Triton Foundation, October 7, 2012–January 20, 2013, pp. 21, 534-535, 540 (illustrated, pp. 21, 535)

    • 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




black marble
9 1/2 x 21 1/4 x 11 1/4 in. (24.1 x 54 x 28.6 cm)
Conceived in 1967 and executed in 1982.

Full Cataloguing

$250,000 - 350,000 

Sold for $317,500

Contact Specialist

Carolyn Kolberg
Associate Specialist, Head of Sale
+1 212 940 1206

Living the Avant-Garde: The Triton Collection Foundation, Evening Sale Part I

New York Auction 14 November 2023