Louise Bourgeois (1911-2010)
signed with initials, numbered and dated 'LB 2/6 97' (on the interior of the body)
133 x 263 x 249 in. (337.8 x 668 x 632.5 cm.)
Executed in 1996. This work is number two from an edition of six.
Gallery Paule Anglim, San Francisco
Acquired from the above by the present owner, 1996
Property from a Private American Collector
P. Herkenhoff. Louise Bourgeois, Rio de Janiero, 1997, pp. 30-31 (another example illustrated).
B. Catoir and M.J. Jacob, Louise Bourgeois, exh. cat., Cologne, Galerie Karsten Greve, 1999, pp. 23-24 (another example illustrated). Kemper Museum of Contemporary Art: The First Ten Years, Kansas City, 2004 (another example illustrated).
"Louise Bourgeois," GQ, Korea, April 2007, p. 290 (another example illustrated). Köln Skulptur 4: 10 Jahre (1997-2007), exh. cat., Cologne, Verlag der Buchhandlung Walther König, 2007 (another example illustrated).
Musée d'Art Contemporain de Montréal, Louise Bourgeois, April-September 1996 (steel example exhibited).
San Francisco, Gallery Paule Anglim, Louise Bourgeois, January-March 1996 (another example exhibited).
Washington, D.C., Baumgartner Galleries, Inc., Louise Bourgeois: Spiders, May-July 1996 (another example exhibited).
Denver Art Museum, September 2006-May 2008 (another example exhibited).
XXIII International São Paulo Bienal, Louise Bourgeois, October-December 1996 (another example exhibited).
Boston, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, List Visual Art Center, Louise Bourgeois, October-December 1996 (another example exhibited).
Rio de Janeiro, Centro Cultural Banco do Brasil, Louise Bourgeois: Sculpture, February-April 1997 (another example exhibited).
Cincinnati, Contemporary Arts Center, Louise Bourgeois: Ode à Ma Mere, April-June 1997 (steel example exhibited).
Cologne, City of Köln Sculpture Garden, September 1997-August 1999 (another example exhibited).
Chicago, Museum of Contemporary Art, September 1997-May 1998 (another example exhibited).
Pittsburgh, Wood Street Galleries, Louise Bourgeois: Art is a Guarantee of Sanity, October 1998-December 1998 (steel example exhibited).
New York, Rockefeller Center, Louise Bourgeois: Spiders, June-September 2001 (another example exhibited).
Cleveland, Playhouse Square's Star Plaza, Louise Bourgeois: Spiders, June-September 2002 (another example exhibited).
Association for a Better New York, Sculpture for Downtown, July-October 2002 (another example exhibited).
Humlebaek, Louisiana Museum of Modern Art, Louise Bourgeois, February-June 2003 (another example exhibited).
Havana, Wilfredo Lam Center, Louise Bourgeois: One and Others February-April 2005 (another example exhibited).
Bangkok Art and Culture Center, Traces of Siamese Smile: Art + Faith + Politics + Love, September 2008 (steel example exhibited).
Reykjavik, National Gallery of Iceland, Louise Bourgeois: Femme, May-September 2011 (another example exhibited).
Executed in 1996, Spider is one of Louise Bourgeois's most enduring and iconic motifs. The second of an edition of six brilliantly rendered sculptures, it picks up the theme of the arachnid that Bourgeois had first contemplated in a small ink and charcoal drawing in 1947. In the second half of the 1990s this became a dominant preoccupation for the artist, creating colossal renditions such as Maman, 1999, standing at almost nine meters, which was exhibited to great acclaim at Tate Modern, London, and Guggenheim Bilbao Museoa. Towering at over three meters in height the monumental, bronze Spider finely balances upon its lean, spindly legs, its body poised somewhere between fight and flight. Its abdomen and thorax are made up of ribbed bronze, tightly wound into a dense center, as if a ball of yarn suspended from a great height. Crafted with Bourgeois' characteristic dexterity, the creature appears remarkably animated--some anomaly of nature come to life. A source of intense phobia for some, the artist's giant spider cannot help but conjure up cult American science-fiction movies of the late 1950s, positing the end of the Earth through the diabolical acts of an eight-legged monster. For Bourgeois however, the spider takes on a more nuanced role, acting as the embodiment of her own turbulent autobiography.
Bourgeois has widely acknowledged that the figure of the spider was an ode to her mother, Josephine, a woman who repaired tapestries in her father's textile restoration workshop in Paris. As the artist has described: "My mother was my best friend. She was deliberate, clever, patient, soothing, reasonable, dainty, subtle, indispensable, neat, and useful as a Spider" (L. Bourgeois, "Ode à ma mère," Paris, 1995, p. 62). The two shared an intimate bond and when her mother died in 1932, Bourgeois, who had left school to nurse her ailing parent, felt bereft. Bourgeois had a somewhat more odious relationship with her father, a charming philanderer who his daughter simultaneously admired and detested. By the artist's own account, the Bourgeois household was part Marcel Proust, part Collete, the family riddled with secrets, deception, and a web of infidelity. Alongside various inappropriate advances to his female workers, the artist's father also began an illicit affair with the children's English governess, Sadie, lasting for ten years. The young Bourgeois detested this woman, the emotional rival for her father's attention and the usurper of her kind and gentle mother whom she adored. As she explained:
"With the spider, I try to put across the power and the personality of a modest animal. Modest as it is, it is very definite and it is indestructible. It is not about the animal itself, but my relation to it. It establishes the fact that the spider is my mother, believe it or not... At some times of the day, the spider is at her best, raring to go and kind of aggressive. She relates to a whole house and she has tentacles that are quite real I connect her to my mother because the spider is a cornered animal, she finds security in the corner" (L. Bourgeois interview with M. Cajori and A. Wallach, quoted in J. Gorovoy et al., Louise Bourgeois: Blue Days and Pink Days, exh. cat., Fondazione Prada, Milan 1997, p. 254).
With its wealth of associations, both as predator and protector, Spider becomes the perfect expression of Bourgeois's traumatic childhood. Certainly the spider's own use of silk to construct cocoons as well as to bind prey embodies both the strength and fragility of the family unit. While the tall creature with its almost Gothic, arched legs imbues a sense of awe and fear, the precarious balancing on such slender limbs conveys an air of poignant vulnerability. Spider with its sensitive and carefully articulated attention to the female role in the household, confirms the artist's place amongst the pantheon of feminist artists. By choosing the symbolically charged image of the spider, with its references to both the Greek legend of Arachne, the tale of the great mortal weaver who challenged the Goddess Minerva and was condemned to becoming a spider, as well as the mercenary Black Widow who eats her partner immediately after mating, Bourgeois confronts the bitter sweet experience of being human and in particular a woman, wife, and mother. The fact that she also chose the traditionally male-dominated domain of sculpture as an articulation of her childhood intensifies its effect, representing a repudiation of the dominant and mercurial father with whom she grew up.
Bourgeois was born in Paris in 1911. As a student in the city, she lived in a building on the rue de Seine that also accommodated the Galerie Gradiva, a Surrealist exhibition space. During the Second World War, Bourgeois moved to New York and spent time with a number of members of the exiled Surrealist circle including André Breton, Andre Masson, and Joan Miró. In Spider a sense of her contemporaries' aesthetic is perceptible, with its exaggerated and fantastical form. While the Surrealists cultivated the dream as a means to access their unconscious, in Spider, however, the recesses of Bourgeois's fertile psyche emerge almost unwittingly, producing a feverishly brilliant image born out of the memories and experiences of her own emotional life.