Louise Bourgeois, 1911–2010, born France
Crouching Spider, 2003
Paris-born Louise Bourgeois belongs to a generation of women artists who achieved prominence late in life. Though she engaged in painting and printmaking in her youth, she is recognized first and foremost for her sculptures.
Among those, Bourgeois's spiders are the best known. They range in size from the minuscule to the monumental. Bourgeois created a giant, steel spider for the inauguration of Tate Modern in London in 2000.
The ‘Maman’ sculpture at Donum is the first of the now iconic large-scale spiders that the artist created and is made of steel rather than bronze, allowing the welding marks to be more visible. This gives the sculpture a more lifelike appearance. The steel medium also makes the sculpture more susceptible to the elements, which is why we have built a structure to house the work at Donum.
Despite the spider's somewhat frightening appearance, Bourgeois viewed it as a benign creature with many qualities. She often described it as a representation of her mother, a resourceful and intelligent tapestry restorer. The spider also represented a form of protection against evil: it swallowed mosquitoes that would otherwise spread disease.
"The spider – why the spider?" Bourgeois explained. "Because my best friend was my mother and she was deliberate, clever, patient, soothing, reasonable, dainty, subtle, indispensable, neat, and as useful as a spider."
Bourgeois was exposed to art and craft from a young age through her parents' tapestry restoration business. She was so skilled that sometimes, in the family atelier, she would fill in the gaps in the tapestry scenes. Yet her childhood was also traumatic because of her father's affair with her tutor, an affair that would have a lasting psychological impact on the artist. She put France behind her in 1938, marrying the American art historian Robert Goldwater, with whom she had three sons, and moving permanently to New York.
It was not until 1982, when she was 70 years old, that Bourgeois was given a retrospective at MoMA. Bourgeois was able to enjoy her success for another three decades: at the age of 95, she had a retrospective at Tate Modern in London. She died at the age of 98.