Preserving the legacy of Louise Bourgeois

 
 

FOUNDATIONS, ESTATES, AND ARCHIVES ARE A DEEPLY IMPORTANT FACET OF THE WORLD’S ARTISTIC LEGACY

In the 1980s, Louise Bourgeois established The Easton Foundation, an artist endowed non-profit and charitable organization. Upon her death in 2010, at the age of 98, Bourgeois bequeathed her home and an adjacent townhouse to become the Foundation’s center, and donated a substantial collection of her art to its holdings.

The Easton Foundation is now dedicated to preserving Bourgeois’s legacy. Serving to promote the scholarship and awareness of Bourgeois’s life and art, the Foundation aims to cultivate new interpretations of her work while providing a deeper understanding of her artistic process and creative milieu. As part of this mission, the Foundation has established the Louise Bourgeois Archive, a study center and residency for curators and scholars, as well as a sculpture garden and a small exhibition space presenting works from the collection. 

 
Bourgeois in her home studio on 20th Street in New York, 1974.  Photo: Mark Setteducati; © The Easton Foundation/Licensed by VAGA at ARS, NY.

Bourgeois in her home studio on 20th Street in New York, 1974.
Photo: Mark Setteducati; © The Easton Foundation/Licensed by VAGA at ARS, NY.

Unprocessed film awaiting discovery, from The Easton Foundation’s collection.

Unprocessed film awaiting discovery, from The Easton Foundation’s collection.


 
 

OUR TEAM SPECIALIZES IN THE STEWARDSHIP OF ARTISTS LEGACIES – DIGITIZATION, INFORMATION SYSTEMS, ACCESS, AND METADATA

Bourgeois’s archives comprise more than a century’s worth of personal writings, letters, family photographs, exhibition announcements, diaries, and thousands of pieces of analog and electronic media – including film, video, and sound recordings. These materials offer unique insight to Bourgeois’s various artistic motivations and the ways in which they were manifested in her art. Her interest in psychoanalysis, experimentation with material and form, and physical and emotional response to her environment were extensively detailed. Letters and documents regarding exhibitions, galleries, and the making and showing of artworks trace the trajectory of Bourgeois’s exceptional career.

The challenge

Like most artist endowed foundations, the unstable media in Bourgeois’s archive was lacking a comprehensive plan for preservation. Without a strategic preservation plan, the history and knowledge contained in the thousands of pieces of obsolete media risked being lost forever. For analog audiovisual materials, most experts consider there to be a 15-20 year doomsday clock that is running out for digitization.  This being said, digitization is expensive, so before embarking on a large scale project to stabilize media one needs to have a clear and coherent strategy in place. What will be digitized and why? Is there likely to be duplication and redundancy in the archive? Who is your trusted vendor, what will it cost, what are the logistics, and how will you check and verify the quality of their work?

 

Digitization is useless however, if we can not effectively find and access the content and any surrounding documentation. While there are incredibly powerful solutions out there for managing, preserving, and providing access to digital assets and information, the unfortunate reality is that much of the art world (outside of major private collections, and institutions) is limping along on outdated database systems that don’t meet the changing needs being faced by artist’s archives and estates coping with digital preservation. The Easton Foundation faced this challenge, having an aging FileMaker Pro system that simply did not meet the needs of the media in their archive.

 
Bourgeois holding her sculpture,  Blades  (1969). In the background are elements for  Confrontation  (1978) and plaster works in progress in her home studio on 20th Street in New York, 1974.  Photo: Mark Setteducati; © The Easton Foundation/Licensed by VAGA at ARS, NY

Bourgeois holding her sculpture, Blades (1969). In the background are elements for Confrontation (1978) and plaster works in progress in her home studio on 20th Street in New York, 1974.
Photo: Mark Setteducati; © The Easton Foundation/Licensed by VAGA at ARS, NY

A peek at Bourgeois’s collection of various media at her home studio on 20th Street in New York, 2019.

A peek at Bourgeois’s collection of various media at her home studio on 20th Street in New York, 2019.

 
 

Our work began with a comprehensive item-level inventory of the media in the archive, and developed a strategic plan for digitization, including rehousing and handling recommendations, a strategy for ensuring that resources with duplicate content would not be digitized, a clear timeline and cost model for ensuring the preservation of the media, and finally a plan for implementing a more robust system for cataloging, preserving, and accessing the media in the archive.

We were subsequently commissioned by The Easton Foundation to implement this strategy, taking a fully managed approach to the solution. Working closely with Beth Higgins, the Foundation’s media archivist, we are completely managing the digitization process and logistics, implementing the Foundation’s new free and open source CollectiveAccess system for cataloging and accessing the digitized media, and collaborating with their IT service provider to ensure a rock-solid backbone to this infrastructure. The Foundation can rest easy knowing that Bourgeois's legacy is protected, and that external res earchers can achieve levels of searchability and access never before thought possible.

 
 
 
Bourgeois wearing the latex sculpture  Avenza  (1968-1969) which became part of  Confrontation  (1978)  in front of her home on 20th Street in New York, 1975.  Photo: Mark Setteducati; © The Easton Foundation/Licensed by VAGA at ARS, NY

Bourgeois wearing the latex sculpture Avenza (1968-1969) which became part of Confrontation (1978)
in front of her home on 20th Street in New York, 1975.
Photo: Mark Setteducati; © The Easton Foundation/Licensed by VAGA at ARS, NY