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Louise Bourgeois utilized a variety of materials—fabric, wood, metal, wax—to craft personal and evocative objects that reference the body, sexuality, anxiety, and trauma. Deeply affected by her childhood experiences, Bourgeois saw art as a way of processing complex feelings. She found sculpture to be particularly helpful, once claiming that it “needs so much physical involvement that you can rid yourself of your demons through sculpting.” Drawing had another, equally important function in her life and work. She had developed her drafting skills as a youth while helping her tapestry-restorer parents by making drawings for them to follow in their repairs. Conceiving of drawings as a “kind of diary,” Bourgeois drew consistently, almost daily, throughout her long life. Because she could execute her drawings quickly, they were an effective way of recording her artistic ideas.

Bourgeois’s drawings often seem like automatic notations—quick sketches of a memory or an idea for a future sculpture. Only a small percentage can be considered preparatory to specific sculptures; she generally recorded only individual motifs that might later be translated into sculptural form. The long, thin shape in the right foreground of Untitled, for example, finds parallels in many other drawings, as well as in bronze and wooden sculptures she created in the late 1940s. The hairlike forms in the left foreground, which recur throughout Bourgeois’s oeuvre, are usually confined to drawings and prints. Though abstract, these forms bear a strong resemblance to parts of the body.

Bourgeois is one of the most significant female artists of the twentieth century. Drawings constitute a key and sometimes overlooked aspect of her practice, making Untitled an important part of the ICA/Boston’s holdings of her work.


Throughout her more than sixty years as an artist, Nancy Spero maintained a commitment to socially and politically engaged art. In her paintings, collages, prints, drawings, and murals, she expressed stances that were antiwar, antiviolence, and most notably, feminist. Spero was a member of a number of artist-activist groups, including the Art Workers Coalition, Women Artists in Revolution, and the A.I.R. Gallery, dedicated to art by women. She consistently sought to meet what she considered to be the societal obligations of the artist.

Female Bomb belongs to Spero’s War series, 1966–69, in which she personified weapons and wartime horrors in response to the conflict in Vietnam. The work shows several vicious-looking heads extending from a female body, blood seeming to spout from each as well as from the figure’s breasts and vagina. In Female Bomb, Spero collapses depictions of a weapon and the body that has been destroyed by it, highlighting the devastation caused by tools of warfare. Spero was fiercely committed to the representation of women in art and portrayed them as both victims and as sources of violence. The strokes of red extending from the heads in Female Bomb have been read as tongues as well as blood, giving form to Spero’s rebelliousness. She said of her work at the time, “I was literally sticking my tongue out at the world—a woman silenced, victimized, and brutalized.”

Nancy Spero is a seminal female artist of the twentieth century. Female Bomb is a crucial addition to the ICA/Boston’s collection of works made by the pioneers of feminist art. In addition, this piece augments our holdings of artworks that investigate themes of war and violence, including those by Kader Attia, Louise Bourgeois, Willie Doherty, Mona Hatoum, and Yasumasa Morimura.


Working in sculpture, drawing, and printmaking, Louise Bourgeois—one of the twentieth century’s most celebrated artists—has explored themes such as trauma, sexuality, and everyday life. Beautiful Night is a nine-color lithograph depicting a boldly colored landscape of pink, orange, and red hills. Printed on music paper, the print is a buoyant and hopeful image, especially for an artist best known for delving into the darker aspects of life. This print retains Bourgeois’s graphic style. Here we see her signature mark-making, as in the mountains formed by her spiraling, obsessive lines and repeated strokes. The landscape is dotted with two leafless trees and a full moon. Bourgeois said of this work: “The trees symbolize a couple on their first date. It’s a beautiful moonlit night that they will remember forever.” This quote relates to what Bourgeois has referred to as the toi et moi (you and me), a theme in her work that speaks to the intricacies of human interaction or relationships. As curator Deborah Wye points out in her catalogue essay for the Museum of Modern Art’s 1994 exhibition The Prints of Louise Bourgeois, it is a topic that the artist repeatedly returns to in her prints.

This print was made as part of the Brooklyn Academy of Music’s BAMart program, a fundraising initiative that offers works donated by visual artists. The addition of Beautiful Night to the ICA/Boston collection expands the museum’s Bourgeois holdings to include a work on paper, increasing the ICA’s ability to showcase the many dimensions of this eminent artist.


Boston-based artist Ambreen Butt combines aspects of Persian and Mogul miniature painting with contemporary imagery, techniques, and subjects. The mark-making, characters, and illustrated worlds that populate Butt’s practice are purposefully varied, building on a visual, narrative language that Butt has developed over the course of her career. “I use figurative and abstract symbolism, visual reference from the art history as well as contemporary images from the mass media for my viewer to connect with my work at multiple levels.”

Multiplicité (AB95) depicts a heroine in multiple, as iterations of her character emerge from the mouths of a five-headed dragon with arms in motion and a resolute expression. A spool of hair spiraling around the body of one figure is formed of her own tresses joining those of another. At the lower right, the green and white dots of the dragon’s scales cover our cloned heroine’s skin, blurring the distinction between her and the hydra: did the monster beget her, or vice versa? Butt creates further ambiguity at a formal level, borrowing from Persian painting both the demon figure and the technique of stitching, while deconstructing their traditional use. Here, rather than binding together pages, thread has entered the drawing itself, outlining the contours of the female figure from which the image of the dragon emerges.

Inspired by wasli, the traditional method of laminating sheets to create a single strong surface on which to paint, Butt’s sewn pages create an illusion of spatial depth and phased passage of time while maintaining the thinness of the page. The exquisite and careful detailing allow Butt to explore the visual relationships between symbol, line, color, and scale, often as a personal response to social and political events. “I try to find multiple ways to decode or unravel that personal language,” explains the artist. “In order to fulfill that ultimate need, I use both figuration and abstraction in a platform that is purely my own.”


Ambreen Butt elaborates on traditional Persian miniature painting in works laced with both historical reference and contemporary resonance. Her intimately scaled imagery on overlaid sheets of stitched Mylar and paper presents open-ended narratives that are formally and conceptually layered. The works are organized in series that contextualize and expand on their themes.

Butt’s experience as a Pakistani Muslim in the United States has grounded her depictions of a heroine gracefully poised on the threshold of self-defining change. Loosely based on the nayika—a heroine who introduces the action in Persian paintings—the protagonist in the series Bed of My Own Making is herself the center of the action, both its cause and effect. Caught yet capable, she finds herself in a universal situation that Butt describes as being about “making choices and living with them for better or for worse.” In Untitled, a woman is caught mid-stride at the top of a hill while juggling balls and balancing a potted tree on her head. Through the mist of the Mylar surface and a matrix of dotted lines, we see that the surface ahead of her bare feet descends unevenly into uncertain territory. The dots condense around her, and it seems that she makes her way by negotiating the haze they create in her path.

The presence of this work in the ICA/Boston collection, one of two from the Bed of My Own Making series, contributes to the ICA’s effort to enhance the depth and range of works in the collection, and to examine the meaningful connections and distinctions between them.    



Marlene Dumas makes expressive figurative oil paintings and watercolor drawings that explore the multiple dimensions of love, beauty, the body, and sexuality. She finds inspiration for her paintings, which often feature women, from source material that includes fashion photography, newspaper clippings, film, fine art, and pornography. Dumas also uses loaded imagery to provoke strong emotional responses from viewers.

German Witch is a characteristic example of Dumas’s large-scale watercolors, rendered with a finely modulated monochromatic wash and additional tonal accents. The effect is both fluid and sensuous, recalling something of the fleshy nudes of her Flemish forebear Peter Paul Rubens. As befits a witch, the image has its mysterious side. The figure turns to look over her shoulder, yet we do not know what she sees. At the same time, our attention is drawn to the stick protruding from her behind: how, we might wonder, will such a tiny broomstick keep such an ample witch aloft?

In 2001, Dumas had a memorable exhibition at the ICA/Boston, and with this history in mind, the ICA has acquired a number of her major works. German Witch joins the ICA’s important collection of art made by women, enriching the museum’s strength in figurative works and expanding the holdings with a major work on paper.


Shepard Fairey is one of the most prolific and influential street artists working today. Fairey first became known for creating a stencil of the face of wrestler André the Giant that he spray-painted and wheat-pasted on public surfaces in major cities internationally. He later parlayed his reputation as a street artist into art-world recognition—his first solo museum survey, Shepard Fairey: Supply and Demand, was held at the ICA/Boston in 2009, and his widely circulated portrait of Barack Obama, used in the 2008 presidential campaign, has been acquired by the National Portrait Gallery in Washington, D.C.

Marilyn Warhol is one of a set of twenty-one prints inspired by a ninety-print grid that was included in Fairey’s exhibition at the ICA. Together these prints demonstrate the scope of his artistic vocabulary, largely based on the legacy of agitprop, and sources of inspiration, taken from the realms of politics, fine art, and popular culture. For Marilyn Warhol, Fairey replaces the face of Marilyn Monroe as it appears in one of Andy Warhol’s iconic paintings with that of André the Giant, conflating the two visages above Fairey’s well-known tagline “Obey.” Here, Fairey demonstrates that he can manipulate a signature image by any artist for his own purposes, adding a complex layer to the history of appropriation art and the conversation about image ownership.

This suite of twenty-one prints by the artist in the ICA’s collection offers a dynamic representation of the artist’s creative output over the last twenty years. Marilyn Warhol, in particular, is in dialogue with other works in the collection that instrumentalize found images, such as those by Vija Celmins, Thomas Ruff, Kelley Walker, and Andy Warhol.