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’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.
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.
Other locations that have been fortunate enough to play host to this sculpture include:
- City Hall, The Hague, The Netherlands, 2001
- Nytorv, Copenhagen, Denmark, 2003
- Mariakerke, Ostend, Belgium, 2006
- Embarcadero, San Francisco, California, USA, November 2007 – 24 April 2009
- Jardin des Tuileries, Paris, France, 2008
- Centre Georges Pompidou, Paris, France, 2008
- Institute of Contemporary Art, Boston, Massachusetts, USA, 27 March 2007 – 2 March 2008
- Museo di Capodimonte, Naples, Italy, 18 October 2008 – 25 January 2009
- Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, Washington, D.C., USA, 2009
- Fundación Proa, Buenos Aires, Argentina, 2011
- Museu de Arte Moderna (MAM), São Paulo, Brasil, 2011
- Bundesplatz, Bern, Switzerland, 24 May 2011 – 7 June 2011
- Bürkliplatz, Zürich, Switzerland, 10 June 2011 – 2 August 2011
- Place Neuve, Geneva, Switzerland, 3 August 2011 – 28 August 2011
- Fondation Beyeler, Riehen/Basel, Switzerland, 3 September 2011 – 8 January 2012
- Kunsthalle, Hamburg, Germany, 23 January 2012 – 17 June 2012
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.
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.