Artist Louise Bourgeois dies, aged 98

French-born American artist Louise Bourgeois, whose sculptures explored women's deepest feelings on birth, sexuality and death, died last night. She was 98.

Bourgeois had continued creating artwork until as recently as last week, before suffering a heart attack on Saturday night. She died at Beth Israel Medical Center in Manhattan.

Bourgeois's work was almost unknown to the wider art world until she was 70, when New York's Museum of Modern Art presented a solo show of her career in 1982.

She was probably best known for her giant spider structures, titled Maman, which she produced in the last dozen years, when she was already in her eighties. A number of these were exhibited at London's Tate Modern gallery.

"This is not a show that is easy to digest," New York Times critic Grace Glueck wrote, of the 1982 show that caught the attention of the art fraternity. "The reward is an intense encounter with an artist who explores her psyche at considerable risk."

Working in a wide variety of materials, she tackled themes relating to male and female bodies and emotions of anger, betrayal, even murder. Her work reflected influences of surrealism, primitivism and the early modernist sculptors such as Alberto Giacometti and Constantin Brancusi.

"I really want to worry people, to bother people," she told The Washington Post in 1984. "They say they are bothered by the double genitalia in my new work. Well, I have been bothered by it my whole life. I once said to my children, 'It's only physiological, you know, the sex drive.' That was a lie. It's much more than that."

In 2007-08, an elaborate retrospective of her career, from the 1940s onward, was displayed at the Tate Modern in London, the Georges Pompidou Center in Paris and the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum in New York.

Bourgeois was born in Paris in 1911; her parents ran a business restoring antique tapestries. In her early years, she studied at the Academie des Beaux-Arts and other schools and studios.

She moved to New York in 1938 after marrying the American art historian Robert Goldwater and became an American citizen in 1955.

While Bourgeois's work shows the influence of primitive artists, she was quick to note that her work was not primitive. "My husband said 15 years ago that primitive art is no longer being made," she told The Washington Post in 1984. "The primitive condition has vanished. These are recent works. Look at it this way – a totem pole is just a decorated tree. My work is a confessional."

Her husband died in 1973. She is survived by two sons, Alain and Jean-Louis, as well as two grandchildren and a great-grandchild. A third son, Michel, died in 1990.

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