One of the most important sculptresses on the global scale, Louise Bourgeois created outstanding works which transcended the very notion of sculpture. By introducing bold and expressive compositions based on exploring sexuality and the body, domesticity and the family, death and the subconscious, Bourgeois made significant and authentic oeuvre regardless of any particular artistic movement.
For over four decade, the artist managed to maintain the position of the highly innovative figure, and during the 1990s at the age of eighty she released an astonishing monumental installation - the Spider series. These bronze sculptures became increasingly commissioned and the one located in Brazil will be on a year-long tour across the country.
Louise Bourgeois was practically raised in a tapestry restoration studio in France. Her mother Joséphine Fauriaux used to restore the pieces so as a young girl the artist participated learned more about this craft and as the time passed by; so it is not unusual that she articulated that experience later in her work. With the death of her mother in 1932, with whom she was really close, Bourgeois gave up studying mathematics and turned to art.
Aside from personal experience, the understanding of the Spider series is conditioned by two important facts. The first one is that the spider is known for constantly weaving and is an animal of great symbolical power. Namely, it is associated with the antique myth of Arachne, a mortal weaver who challenged goddess of wisdom and crafts Athena to a weaving contest. Although Arachne won, she was transformed into a spider by Athena out of spite.
The other significant fact is the rise of the Second wave of feminism during the late 1960s and early 1970s which embraced the Arachne myth as an important story which shows the urge of women to use their crafts as tools for emancipation. Bourgeois, however, refused to be classified as a feminist artist.
The spiders were present in the artist’s work for a long time in different forms; this zoomorphic form was best expressed with a series of sculptures produced during the mid-1990s in the in memory of her mother. These bronze figures three meters tall, with endings referring to the needle and the embroidery, are reflecting the symbolism of the relation of the artist with the childhood and her mother, as well as of the woman knowledge production.
Maman is the best-known sculpture from the spiders series; it is a steel and marble sculpture more than nine meters high first made as part of the artist's commission for The Unilever Series for Tate Modern's Turbine Hall in 2000. In 2016, Maman was installed at the Qatar National Convention Centre in Doha. As the title suggests, it alludes to the strength of her deceased mother, with references to spinning, weaving, and protection. Bourgeois once stated:
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.
One of Louise Bourgeois’s first large-scale Spider sculptures was installed two decades ago in the atrium of the Museum of Modern Art in São Paulo. As a matter of fact, Olavo Setubal from the Itaú Cultural Institute acquired this astounding piece in 1996; it was the year when the work was shown in at the São Paulo Biennial.
The bronze sculpture is currently on a year-long tour across various cities in Brazil, and the first location where it can be seen is the Inhotim Institute in Minas Gerais. Eduardo Saron, the institute’s cultural director stated that the tour is part of an initiative to democratize the collection.
Earlier this year, Spider was subjugated to restoration at the Easton Foundation in New York, the non-profit organization Bourgeois launched in the 1980s. Namely, most of the early Bourgeois spiders were made hollow and not fit to withstand travel and weather, so this particular specimen was “filled” with bronze; it now weighs more than 700kg and has to be disassembled into ten pieces for transportation.
Spider by Louise Bourgeois will be on display at the Inhotim Institute in Minas Gerais until 14 April 2019. It will next be on view at the Iberê Camargo Foundation in Porto Alegre in May 2019 and then to the Oscar Niemeyer Museum in Curitiba in August 2019. The institute will announce more venues and hopes to manage the tour in 2020.
Editors’ Tip: Louise Bourgeois' Spider: The Architecture of Art-Writing
The sculptor Louise Bourgeois is best known for her monumental abstract sculptures, one of the most striking of which is the installation Spider (1997). Too vast in scale to be viewed all at once, this elusive structure resists simple narration. It fits both no genre and all of them—architecture, sculpture, installation. Its contents and associations evoke social issues without being reducible to any one of them. Here, literary critic and theorist Mieke Bal presents the work as a theoretical object, one that can teach us how to think, speak, and write about art.
Featured image: The sculpture Maman by Louise Bourgeois in front of the National Gallery of Canada, in Ottawa. Image creative commons.