‘Spider’, Louise Bourgeois, 1994 | Tate

Spider is a giant sculpture of an arachnid that stands on the floor. The artwork is made of bronze and granite and was created in 1994 by the French-born American artist Louise Bourgeois. One of the first of many sculptures of spiders made by the artist, Spider measures 2743 x 4572 x 3785 mm, such that it is large enough to occupy the entire space of a room. The body of the spider supports a rounded cage-like structure inside which is held a large white egg. The cage hangs below a cylindrical form, to which are attached eight thin legs stretching out to the floor. Each of the legs is articulated in three sections made of straight rods of bronze, with the exception of one of the legs, where the two sections are bent, creating a semi-circle. The lower parts of seven of the legs end in needle points where the sculpture meets the floor, while the eighth terminates in a small coil. The angularity of the thin legs and their different heights give the impression that the spider is crawling.

In 1995, the year after she made this version of Spider, Bourgeois published the poem ‘Ode to my Mother’ (‘Ode à ma mère’) alongside a suite of nine etchings depicting spiders that were published by Editions du Solstice, Paris. In the poem the artist relates the spider to a maternal figure, her own mother in particular, who was a weaver and the manager of the family’s antique tapestry restoration business:

The friend (the spider – why the spider?) because my best friend was my mother and she was deliberate, clever, patient, soothing, reasonable, dainty, subtle, indispensable, neat, and useful as an araignée. She could also defend herself, and me, by refusing to answer ‘stupid’, inquisitive, embarrassing personal questions.
I shall never tire of representing her.
I want to: eat, sleep, argue, hurt, destroy
Why do you?
My reasons belong exclusively to me.
The treatment of Fear.
(Quoted in Tate Modern 2000, p.62.)

The spider is a recurring motif in Bourgeois’s oeuvre. She first depicted it in a small ink and charcoal drawing of 1947 that was also entitled Spider, but the subject began to appear more frequently in her sculptures, drawings and prints in the mid-1990s, and she remained interested in the theme until late in life. The artist made sculptures of arachnids ranging in size from a small brooch to monumental outdoor works measuring over ten metres high. One of Bourgeois’s largest spider sculptures is the iconic Maman (Tate T12625), made of steel and marble in 1999 as part of her Turbine Hall commission for the opening of Tate Modern in London in May 2000. Other versions include Spider I 1995 (Tate AL00353).

Further reading
Louise Bourgeois, exhibition catalogue, Tate Modern, London 2000.
Louise Bourgeois: Maman, exhibition catalogue, Wanås Foundation and Atlantis, Stockholm 2007, reproduced p.79.
Ann Coxon, Louise Bourgeois, London 2010.

Natasha Adamou
May 2016

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