As I was rushing through the Art Basel exhibition just before closing time, I turned a corner and was confronted by one of French sculptor Louise Bougeois’s large spiders. That definitely made me pause. The artist’s spider sculptures seem to make more of an impact indoors, where there is an element of surprise and where lighting can be used to create shadows that emphasize the spindly and pointed legs.
Louise Bourgeois also created a series of six 30-foot tall spiders, entitled Maman, that reside in different parts of the word. I am familiar with the one that stands outside the National Gallery of Canada in Ottawa.
– Click on each image to see a higher resolution
version (2048 x 1365) on Flickr –
With that spider, you can see it from far away, so the effect is less visceral. By the time I actually got close enough to see the spider clearly, I was distracted by a series of thoughts: “I wonder why someone decided to put a giant spider sculpture there. Is it supposed to represent Canada? If a spider were that large, would its slender legs be able to support the massive weight?”
Some backstory is helpful in understanding the artist’s fascination with spiders. She created her spider sculptures at least in part to pay homage to her mother, who had died when the artist was a young woman. Her mother, who had worked as a tapestry restorer in the family’s workshop, was, in a sense, a weaver, as are web-spinning spiders. The artist drew other parallels between her mother and spiders; in a text accompanying a series of etchings entitled Ode à ma mere, she wrote:
The friend (the spider – why the spider?) because my best friend was my mother and she was deliberate, clever, patient, soothing, reasonable, dainty, subtle, indispensable, neat, and as useful as a spider. She could also defend herself, and me, by refusing to answer ‘stupid’, inquisitive, embarrassing, personal questions.
I shall never tire of representing her.
I want to: eat, sleep, argue, hurt, destroy…
Why do you?
My reasons belong exclusively to me.
The treatment of Fear.
Though she focuses on the positive characteristics of spiders in her text, Louise Bourgeois’s actual sculptures don’t shy away from depicting spiders as being dangerous, threatening, fear-inspiring creatures. There is an interesting contrast at work there. Spiders create by spinning webs, which they then use to destroy life so that they themselves may live, procreate and nurture—a cycle of creation and death.
The Welcoming Hands
Spiders were a frequent subject in the work of Louise Bourgeois, but she also produced a wide range of works ranging from abstract cell-like installations (with cell here meaning room) to small, realistic sculptures of hands. The Art Basel exhibition also included this lovely bronze sculpture.
Louise Bourgeois: Maman (the video shows one of the Maman sculptures being assembled) by VernissageTV
Three Artists on a Spider by Louise Bourgeois (Different interpretations of the artist’s spiders). Video from Louisiana Channel.
More on Louise Bourgeois
Louise Bourgeois: The Complete Prints and Books (a biography and a large collection of photos and articles put together by the Museum of Modern Art)
~by Stephen Richards (longzijun)
Return to Artjouer’s Gallery of Artists