Just like an awesome creature escaped from a nightmare or a larger-than life incarnation of a childhood fear, the more than 30 feet high and more than 30 feet wide sculpture of a giant spider, named Mamon, was created by the French artist Louise Bourgeois. The gigantic steel spider was first unveiled as a commission of the artist for the Unilever Series, at Turbine Hall of the Tate Modern in London in May 2000. Considered as one of the largest sculptures in the world, the abdomen and thorax of the unearthly creature are made of ribbed bronze and it has a sac located at its underbelly that contains 10 marble eggs, gleaming in the darkness of their under-body cavity.
The body of the mother spider seems to be suspended high above the ground, supported on eight slender and bumpy legs. Each ribbed leg ends in a sharp-tipped point, made of two pieces of steel and attached to a collar above, from which rises her irregularly ribbed body, balanced by a similar sized egg sac below. Based on a motif that she first depicted in a small ink and charcoal drawing in 1947, Maman, the familiar French word for Mother, is the largest of a series of spider sculptures created by Bourgeois in 1999 and is one of her most ambitious and recognizable works. Later, several versions of the sculpture were cast in bronze that had landed in Paris, Saint Petersburg, Denver, Kansas City, Tokyo, Copenhagen, San Francisco, New York, London, even in Korea and Ottawa in Canada.
Over the years, Bourgeoise made a lot of spiders in different sizes and the smallest spider she ever created was a little 4-inch brooch. But the Maman was her largest sculpture and today, spiders have become synonymous with Louise Bourgeoise’s work. In the huge sculpture the artist explores the meaning of motherhood and captures a fragile moment, where a protective mother carries her eggs. While protecting her precious eggs in her steel-cage like body, she provokes awe and fear, but despite her massive height, improbably balanced on slender legs, somehow she conveys an almost poignant vulnerability.
In fact, Maman is the artist’s ode to her best friend, her mother, whom she lost at the age of twenty-one, due to an unknown illness. Like a spider, her mother was a weaver, who used to repair tapestries in the family business of tapestry restoration workshop in Paris and at the same time protected her children with all her strength. The works of Louise Bourgeois were mostly created as the echoes of her psychological pangs that she encountered during her childhood as well as the stress she encountered in her marriage and motherhood.
Her works are deeply personal, with frequent references to the painful and tormenting memories of her childhood, memories of an unfaithful father and a loving but complicit mother, confronting the bittersweet ordeal of being a human. At the tender age of ten, she was the helpless witness of her father’s philandering, when he brought his mistress Sadie Gordon Richmond, in the family household as a governess to his children and their affair shamelessly continued for ten years in the presence of her mother. A few days after the death of her mother, Louise threw herself into the Bièvre River, in the presence of her father, who swam to her rescue, though he did not seem to take his daughter's despair seriously.
Maman in Bürkliplatz, Zürich, Switzerland
With a highly successful career as an artist that spanned eight decades, all the way from the 1930s to 2010, Louise Bourgeois, born on the Christmas day in 1911 in Paris, is recognized as one of the best and most influential female artists of modern and contemporary art.
She was a second generation surrealist that expressed her inner words and feelings with bold colours and sharp lines. Often unnervingly aggressive and massive, Louise Bourgeois was also a feminist force to reckon with in the art world. Although she was more famous owing to her work with spiders, other themes that dominated her artwork include fear, sex, and rage. She passed away at the age of 98, on 31 May 2010 in New York.