Louise Bourgeois, Maman (c. 1999)

Louise Bourgeois, Maman (c. 1999) Stainless steel and marble, 352 in. x 386179 in. x 456 inches. These measurements from the cast at the Guggenheim Museum Bilbao, Spain.

Louise Bourgeois is one of the most important female contemporary artists today. Though currently 98 years old, she is still a force to be reckoned with are her fame seems to increase every year. Two years ago she had a major retrospective at the Guggenheim Museum in New York that I was able to attend but that is only one of the many shows recently exhibiting her work. This particular work is important to me because of my huge, and largely irrational, fear of spiders. Attending the opening of her retrospective in New York was something that helped me to acknowledge that the spiders of my nightmares exist only in marble and steel and rather than killer insects they can represent a mother.

By far the largest arachnid sculpture by Bourgeois, Maman is a symbol of her mother's great strength and protective instincts while also an allusion to her profession as a weaver. Towering above people the spider is both threatening and maternal. The female arachnid clings to the sack of her eggs beneath her belly with care, while her long spindly legs splay to cover vast amounts of ground. As the viewer walks among her legs and around the sculpture the feeling of confronting a fear is present but so is comfort. Viewer a spider, for me at least, in the guise of a mother brought up conflicting emotions of intimidation and love and I realized quickly that that is often the relationship between mothers and daughters. Bourgeois's sculpture is a metaphor for the modern relationship between mother and child and the complexes that arise from being both loved and intimidated by one's parents.

Maman (1999) is exhibited all over the world in various casts and here is a list of some of the places you can experience this incredible work:
* Kemper Museum of Contemporary Art, Kansas City, Missouri
* National Gallery of Canada, Ottawa
* State Hermitage Museum, St. Petersburg
* Guggenheim Museum Bilbao
* Mori Art Museum, Roppongi, Tokyo
* Samsung Museum of Modern Art (Leeum), Seoul
* Jardin des Tuileries, Paris
* Havana, Cuba[3]
* Pappajohn Sculpture Park Des Moines, Iowa

For another take on the work, one that is less personal than my own, I found this excerpt from the Guggenheim's own website, I hope it proves enlightening:
"Like a creature escaped from a dream, or a larger-than-life embodiment of a secret childhood fear, the giant spider Maman (1999) casts a powerful physical and psychological shadow. Over 30 feet high, the mammoth sculpture is one of the most ambitious undertakings in the long career of Louse Bourgeois (b. Paris, 1911). Through a vast oeuvre spanning over 60 years, Bourgeois has plumbed the depths of human emotion further and more passionately than perhaps any other artist of our time. In its evocation of the psyche, her work is both universal and deeply personal, with frequent, explicit reference to painful childhood memories of an unfaithful father and a loving but complicit mother. Bourgeois first gained notice in the 1940s with her Surrealist-inspired Personnages: thin, vertical forms in wood or stone that evoke the human body. Installed in clusters, suggesting a small crowd or perhaps a family, the Personnages were meant to symbolize figures from the artist's past. Maman, in fact, is associated with the artist's own mother. The spider, who protects her precious eggs in a steel cage-like body, provokes awe and fear, but her massive height, improbably balanced on slender legs, conveys an almost poignant vulnerability." - Taken from guggenheimcollection.com, written by Meghan Dailey.

1 comment:

  1. Hi Lydia, Your site is fabulous.
    I am using it as backup for an art history class in the hills of a pueblo in Oaxaca, Mexico. Just 4 students.
    Is there some kind of index you have for all the works I can use? Martha, retired art teacher, New York, New York.