My first encounter with a Louise Bourgeois spider was at the National Gallery of Canada.
As you can see, (or may have experienced) Maman is an imposing sculpture. I am not afraid of spiders, but the size of this artwork, in combination with the textures and finishes, add to the ominousness of the work. I certainly wondered about Bourgeois’ relationship with her own mother, and hastily assumed that, perhaps, she had been a domineering and threatening figure in Bourgeois’ life.
SF MoMA offered a more nuanced interpretation of the work:
The artist saw spiders as both fierce and fragile, capable of being protectors as well as predators. For Bourgeois, the spider embodied an intricate and sometimes contradictory mix of psychological and biographical allusions.Partly a reference to her mother, partly to herself, spiders for her represented cleverness, industriousness, and protectiveness.
I think this is summed up in Spider, 2003. This sculpture is encased in a cube, located in a room off of the main display area.
Spider is on a more manageable scale in terms of appearing less threatening, and yet still depicting strength. The figure makes it somewhat human, and more accesible. The tapestry work contrasts with the steel of the legs, and softens the structure. (Her parents ran a tapestry restoration business in Paris in the first half of the 20th century.) I found it beautiful, and unsettling…..a contradictory mix of psychological and biographical allusions.
Louise Bourgeois was a very prolific artist, who died at 98 years of age. The cataloguing of her prints and books alone will total 5,000 entries. There is much moe to explore.