The giant sculpture Maman, by Louise Bourgeois, graces the National Gallery of Canada's outdoor plaza in Ottawa. ((Louise Bourgeois/National Gallery of Canada))

Louise Bourgeois, the French-born American artist who gained fame late in her long career, has died in New York at the age of 98.

Louise Bourgeois Studio's managing director Wendy Williams said Bourgeois died at Beth Israel Medical Center on Monday, two days after suffering a heart attack.

She worked with a wide variety of materials — wood, steel, stone and cast rubber — to create abstract sculptures, drawings and prints that explored feelings about birth, sexuality, death, and the need for nurture and protection in a frightening world.

"I really want to worry people, to bother people," Bourgeois told The Washington Post in a 1984 interview.

Her imposing 10-metre-high Maman, a giant spider made of bronze and stainless steel carrying a sac of white marble eggs, has stood on the outdoor plaza of the National Gallery of Canada since 2005.


Artist Louise Bourgeois is shown here with her sculpture, Eye to Eye, created in 1970. She died on Monday at the age of 98. ((Raimon Ramis/Guggenheim Museum/Associated Press))

In his book, American Visions, Time magazine's art critic Robert Hughes called Bourgeois "the mother of American feminist identity art.... [her] influence on young artists has been enormous."

In 2007, she depicted the effects of aging on her own body in a series of 11 large panels called Extreme Tension.

Born in Paris in 1911, Bourgeois studied mathematics at the Sorbonne and later studied art at the Louvre and the École des Beaux-Arts. She married American art historian, Robert Goldwater, and the couple moved to New York in 1938. She continued her studies in the U.S. and began her art career there.

Her work was almost unknown to the wider art world until she was 70, when New York's Museum of Modern Art held a retrospective of her career.

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

Her most recent pieces were finished just last week, Williams said.

In 2009, Bourgeois was inducted into the U.S. National Women's Hall of Fame.

She is survived by two sons, Alain and Jean Louis, as well as by two grandchildren and a great-grandchild. Her husband and a third son, Michel, predeceased her.

With files from The Canadian Press