Obituary: Louise Bourgeois

Bourgeois was best known for her giant metallic spider sculptures

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Louise Bourgeois, who has died in New York at the age of 98, was one of the world's most important and influential contemporary artists.

Yet it was not until the French-born, American-based sculptor was 70 years old that her work became known to the wider art world.

That recognition came when the Museum of Modern Art in New York presented a solo show of her career in 1982.

The exhibition - the first retrospective the museum had ever mounted of a female sculptor - led to an invitation to represent the US at the 1993 Venice Biennale.

Best known for her giant metallic spider sculptures, her work was influenced by surrealism, primitivism and such early modernist sculptors as Alberto Giacometti and Constantin Brancusi.

When the Tate Modern opened in London in 2000, Bourgeois was commissioned to produce its first special exhibition.

I Do, I Undo at Tate Modern in 2000 Bourgeois created three giant towers for the opening of Tate Modern in 2000

Born in Paris in 1911, Bourgeois spent her early years studying at the Academie des Beaux-Arts and other schools and studios.

She moved to New York in 1938 after marrying US art historian Robert Goldwater, becoming an American citizen in 1955.

It was there that she produced the bulk of her art, provocative works that explored the traumas of her childhood and sexuality.

Working in a wide variety of materials, she tackled themes relating to male and female bodies, anger and betrayal.

In many interviews, Bourgeois cited her father's adulterous affair with a woman named Sadie - hired to teach her English - as a key inspiration.

"I always hated that woman," she told the Washington Post in 1984. "My work is often about murder."

One of her seminal works, The Destruction of the Father, represents a dinner table headed by a tyrannical father whose terrified family are driven to attack him.

The work - based on hunks of mutton and beef cast in plaster and then covered in latex - was completed shortly after the death of her husband in 1973.

The Destruction of the Father The Destruction of the Father was first exhibited in 1974

In 1997, she received a National Medal of Arts from US President Bill Clinton. The same year she was inducted into the National Women's Hall of Fame.

Before her death, she had been actively involved in preparations for an exhibition of her work in Venice, due to open on Friday.

Bourgeois is survived by two sons, Alain and Jean Louis. According to her studio, a third son, Michel, died before her.

French President Nicolas Sarkozy has paid tribute to a "very great artist" who "never stopped creating and renewing herself in her art."

Bourgeois, he continued, had been able to "reach a higher truth, rich in its contradictions, avoiding the trap of the latest trends."

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