Neglected throughout the 60s and 70s, but her resurrection has been going on for the last 10 years. Her recognition has really come shamefully late given that she has been around for most of the twentieth century.
Born in France in 1911, she was the child of parents who ran a tapestry restoration business. Childhood is a salient theme in her art: some of her pieces could be called abreaction, or just reaction to childhood trauma and memories. Talking of memories, I'll always remember my first encounter with LB's art. It was a wintry day in Bilbao, early morning, as I walked up the river Nervion to the Guggenheim. Imagine my surprise when I see this giant spider on the other side of the river. Although, from a distance it resembled a prop from a sci-fi B movie, that giant arachnid in front of Frank Gehry's postmodern configuration was unforgettable- it also proved to be more interesting than the art inside the museum.
Had I known more about LB then I might have thought how apt this spider's exterior location was. LB has never really been comfortable within the museum, the symbol of art history itself. Take her attitude towards surrealism. Although she knew all the great minds of the movement- Ernst, Duchamp etc- she said- as in this programme- that she's never really worked out her relationship with surrealism. A concrete illustration of this is her wheel hidden under the skirts of a female figure: the wheel references Duchamp through a discourse of maternity.
Perhaps LB felt separate from European modernism in general; she left France for the U.S.A. in 1938, marrying Robert Goldwater, who she said was a kind of substitute for her own father. What is remarkable about LB is the way she's stuck around despite the many setbacks she's met in the States. Among these has been investigation by HUAC, but unlike other surrealists put through this humiliation, and who counter-attacked petulantly thus earning themselves extradition, LB maneuvered adroitly. Despite investigation for communist leanings, she eventually went on to gain citizenship in 1955. Despite a retreat into the solipsism of neo-Freudian explorations, LB retained her political antenna which was attuned to the post-war political explosions such as '1968'. As Paul Stuart says on the World Socialist Web Site, LB even sympathized with the poor of California, flooded out, unlike the rich who she said were safe in the mountains.
I'm not surprised to learn from this article that Goya was one of LB's influences. Her sculpture, 'Destruction of the Father' (1974) reminds me of some of the Spanish master's still-life paintings. These contain birds piled up like the corpses in his 'Disasters of War' series. I can easily believe- as Stuart says- that this fragmented structure, with its echoes of the butcher's slab, may conjure up the battlefields of Vietnam or Verdun.