Maman, A Spider Sculpture: Louise Bourgeois

Louise Bourgeois

 Maman. Mother, en français. 8 legs, their points touching the ground… seemingly waiting to descend up their prey. The basket of eggs is tucked up in the spider’s body, relying on those 8 legs to deliver. The skin shivers as those legs begin to creep closer.

Spiders… they’re not my favorite thing. It is very very difficult for anyone to make me see beauty in something that possesses 8 legs. It’s just not natural… Yet, French artist Louise Bourgois does just that. No one can deny that her 30 ft high sculpture of a spider is not beautiful, and somehow elegant. This massive arachnid is mostly made of bronze, with the sac of eggs in the abdomen being marble – 26 in total.

The Spider is an ode to my mother. She was my best friend. Like a spider, my mother was a weaver. My family was in the business of tapestry restoration, and my mother was in charge of the workshop. Like spiders, my mother was very clever. Spiders are friendly presences that eat mosquitoes. We know that mosquitoes spread diseases and are therefore unwanted. So, spiders are helpful and protective, just like my mother. – Louise Bourgeois

Louise Bourgeois

Louise’s mother died when she was just 21 years old. As can be imagined, that left a very large and lasting impression on the young French-American artist. So large in fact, she tried to throw herself into a river a few days after her mother’s death. Her father came to her rescue. It is no wonder the maternal theme resonates so strongly within her works.

Louise Bourgeois

Maman was originally commissioned as part of the opening of the Tate Modern in May of 2000, and was placed in the famous Turbine Hall. Since that date, it has made its rounds to art galleries around the world. I first saw this unique piece on one of its return trips to London in 2007, just outside the Tate Modern along the River Thames.

Louise Bourgeois

Other locations that have been fortunate enough to play host to this sculpture include:


You’ll see on that list the Jardin des Tuileries in Paris listed. Coincidentally enough, I happened to be in Paris then. And I happened to meet the spider mother again. She looked so different in the grassy space of the gardens, yet no less striking.

Louise Bourgeois

I was quite surprised to have run into her twice now. Given my previously stated distaste for spiders, my delight in crossing Maman‘s path again surprised me. Perhaps it was a testament to the skill of Bourgeois that she managed to transform my impression of this creature, replacing the creepy-crawly feeling with her own message of protection. Who’s to say. I did think twice about smashing a spider with my shoe after this however. Artistic success.

  • I’m not adverse to spiders, only when they sneak up on me, so I think I could handle this giant one 🙂

    • I used to encounter wolf spiders when I worked with the horses… they would be lurking on the water buckets when we dumped them. They were the size of your hand, and hairy. Smaller ones I’m okay with, and bronze ones I’m definitely okay with! 🙂

  • Roving Altruist

    I’m not a fan of spiders by a long stretch, but I was captivated by this sculpture when I saw it in Copenhagen and London. While I find it grotesque and jarring for several reasons (the main one being the fact that it’s a huge metal spider), it’s also very delicate, light and subtly beautiful somehow. A lovely post Amy.

    • It is amazing how graceful she managed to make this spider! If I ever encountered a spider this large in real life, I would probably die on the spot. Yet Bourgeois managed to take away the “ick” factor and make it truly beautiful. So cool that you saw it in person as well!

  • I’m also not a spider fan, but did find this statue unique and intriguing. It almost looks weightless, with that big body perched on those spindly legs. I also found it in London outside of the Tate. Thankfully, I don’t think I realised that she had a giant egg sac – that really would’ve given me the heebie jeebies!

    • It is rather striking, isn’t it? And like you said, almost weightless in feel. A real testament to the artist’s skill to be able to make that much bronze look light as a feather! When did you see it outside the Tate? I lived in London from 2007-2008, maybe we crossed paths there and never even knew it! 🙂

      • I was in London in December 2007/Jan 2008 – you never know, maybe we did unknowingly see one another! I love that you found it again in Paris. Hopefully I’ll bump into it again one day!

        • I was there then!! Haha I wonder if you’re a “guest feature” in any of my travel photos lol. From what I understand this piece travels quite a bit, and has permanent homes in several locations (not sure how this works…). How cool would it be to see it again somewhere! Like the traveling gnome from the old Travelocity commercials! 🙂

          • Haha I often wonder about who must be in the background of my travel photos! I agree, the idea of several permanent homes is a little confusing… and I’ve never heard of the travelling gnome, but he sounds exciting too!!

          • The traveling gnome was part of an ad campaign by a travel booking website, and a group of young people took their neighbor’s garden gnome statue on a trip around the world. They took photos of it in front of major landmarks, and then returned the gnome to the neighbor with the photos. It was a fun ad campaign! 🙂

  • This is so unique and beautiful in its own way. Spiders don’t bother me as I do appreciate what they can accomplish. I just don’t want to be up close and personal! I can’t imagine what that must look like in person!

    • This sculpture did downplay the creepy crawly factor for sure! The worst (as in creepiest) spiders I have encountered: wolf spiders in Florida, and huntsman spiders in Australia. Both large and hairy, and both with pretty aggressive names! lol