Louise Bourgeois (1911 – 2010)

Above: taken outside Guggenheim Bilbao Museoa.

From the Culture Trip website:

“Louise Bourgeois claimed to be named after Louise Michel (1830 – 1905), the ‘red virgin of Montmartre’ from the days of the French Commune who was infamously known for her anarchist feminist politics. Such a bold allusion secures Louise Bourgeois’ status as one of the most eminent and provocative artists of all time. A second-generation surrealist, Bourgeois’ psychologically nuanced and often nightmarishly aggressive sculptures manipulated gendered metaphors before ‘Feminism’ took hold in either France or America (she had dual nationality), inspiring generations of future female artists for whom she set a precedent.

Bourgeois, nicknamed the ‘Spiderwoman’, quickly became notorious in the artistic sphere for her feminine structures and imposing metallic spiders, which she said represented her mother. Bourgeois, whose work has been displayed around the world was one of the first to display psychologically charged and intimate art works. Although Bourgeois is often grouped with the abstract expressionist artists, her works were far from abstract but, rather, were instilled with symbolism. From her artistic sketches in the 1940s right through to her death in 2010, she breathed life into both structure and texture in order to express themes of loneliness, vulnerability and pain.

Her largest, and most famous, sculpture, named Maman (1999) – the affectionate French term for ‘mother’ – popped up in various locations around the world, causing controversy and admiration wherever it appeared. Looming at over 30ft, it even had a spell on the banks of the River Thames outside the Tate Modern, London in 2000 before taking up residence outside Guggenheim Bilbao Museoa. The sculpture was divisive in its amalgamation of the terror usually associated with arachnids and the maternal associations Bourgeois focused on. Maman, as her magnum opus, was perhaps a culmination of the theme of the arachnid that Bourgeois had first contemplated in a small ink and charcoal drawing in 1947, continuing with her 1996 sculpture Spider. The sculpture, with its seventeen marble eggs in a meshed sac hanging from the under-body cavity of the giant structure, is emotionally aggressive and alludes to Bourgeois’ mother with its metaphors of spinning, weaving and protection. Talking to the Tate, she explained:

This spider is an ode to my mother. She was my best friend. Like a spider, my mother was a weaver. 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.”

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