One of the first things you see walking into Bass Concert Hall’s front doors are two shiny marble eyes staring back at you—Eyes, carved in 1982 by Louise Bourgeois at the age of 71.
In 1938, Bourgeois moved to New York from her home in Paris. Initially a painter, she turned to sculpture after World War II, using the roof of her apartment building as a workspace.
Although much of her art was motivated by early traumatic events and the resulting psychological turmoil, her sculptures communicate universal concerns, including identity, gender, childhood, sexuality, motherhood, and the continuing power of past and current experiences. Bourgeois absorbed key ideas from avant-garde art movements, notably surrealism, primitivism, expressionism, and conceptualism, as well as from non-art sources such as psychoanalysis and feminism.
Bourgeois first began to sculpt in marble in the late 1960s, selecting her stones from the famous quarries around Carrara, Italy. She liked the transformative process of working from an inert block, stating: “The drilling begins the process by negating the stone. . . . The cube no longer exists as a pure form for contemplation; it becomes an image. I take it over with my fantasy, my life force. I put it to the use of my unconscious.”
A remarkably active artist, Bourgeois carved Eyes shortly after she began to withdraw from social functions in order to concentrate on her art. Despite the hardness of the material, she often arrived at suggestive organic forms, including individual body parts, such as a hand, ear, or leg or, as in this case, eyes.
Eyes can suggest not only literal eyesight, but also spiritual vision and windows into the soul. In Bourgeois’ sculptures, the eyes usually stare out from deep sockets with unnerving directness. She once indicated that she did not distinguish between “eyes that see the reality of things or . . . eyes that see your fantasy.”
The next time you visit Bass Concert Hall, take a few minutes to explore the lobbies. You’ll find a total of 11 sculptures that are part of Landmarks, the award-winning public art program of The University of Texas at Austin. The program launched in 2008 when 28 modern and contemporary sculptures were secured on long-term loan from The Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, including Eyes.
By bringing great art to the university, Landmarks enriches the lives of students and visitors, engaging thousands of people every day. Around the university campus today (including in Bass Concert Hall), you’ll find a total of 38 modern and contemporary works including commissions from some of the most admired and promising artists of our time.
For more information about the collection, free tours, and more, visit landmarks.utexas.edu.