The Destruction of the Father is a critical cathartic work in Louise Bourgeois’ artistic development and psychic life. Completed in 1974, the year after the death of her husband, Robert Goldwater, the work is a synthesis of the soft landscapes, poured forms, and sexually explicit part objects that she made starting in 1960. It is also the artist’s first installation piece and looks forward to the Cells of the 1990s.
This scene presents the aftermath of a cannibalistic feast, a fantasy of revenge against an overbearing father, murdered and eaten by his wife and children. The tabletop in the center with what appear to be bodily remains, chiefly cast from chicken legs and other animal parts, while the ceiling and floor are covered with breast-like protuberances. Bourgeois described the work as an “oral drama,” and, with its lurid red light and black velvet backdrop, it is half theater of cruelty and half crime scene.
The Destruction of the Father is the expression of an unconscious fantasy that may have been provoked by the death of the artist’s husband. Anxieties in the present may have triggered a regression to the oral stage in an acting out of archaic attitudes and behaviors. Psychoanalytically speaking, incorporation is a more archaic version of the mechanism of identification that underwrite the latter Oedipal situation.
Photographed as Part of the Exhibit Louise Bourgeois, Freud’s Daughter at the Jewish Museum in Manhattan Through September 12th, 2021.