94 x 96 x 84 in. 238.7 x 243.8 x 213.3 cm.
Inscribed with initials, numbered 1/6 and stamped.
Cheim & Read Gallery, New York
Galerie Lars Bohman, Stockholm
Acquired by the present owner from the above in 1998
Stockholm, Galerie Lars Bohman, Louise Bourgeois: New Work, August - October 1998 (bronze, no. 1/6)
Exh. Cat., New York, United Nations Visitors Lobby, Toward a Society for all Ages: World Artists at the Millenium, 1999 (bronze, no. 4/6, cast in 1999)
Exh. Cat., London, Tate Modern, Louise Bourgeois, 2000, p. 64, illustrated (steel version)
Exh. Cat., Zurich, Daros Exhibitions, Louise Bourgeois: Emotions Abstracted - Works 1941 - 2000, 2004, cat. no. 40, fig. no. 37, n.p., illustrated in color (bronze, no. 5/6, cast in 1999)
Spider is one of the artist's great sculptures employing the signature motif of her oeuvre. Spider is an insistent presence, rising above the viewer; yet this Spider is also protecting bronze eggs within her torso in a more contemplative, maternal role. Emerging in the ephemeral environment of her early drawings and then triumphantly towering over the Turbine Hall at Tate Modern with the gargantuan Maman (1999) in 2000, the resurgence of the Spider in Bourgeois' work of the 1990s, had been remarkable, attesting to the primacy of this frightening yet fragile creature in the artist's imagination.
Images of a spider recur throughout Bourgeois' work, constituting a prolonged series of drawings, sculptures, prints and installations, each representing a huge spider, hovering over a page, a wall, a ceiling, a room or above one of the artist's architectural Cell installations. Spiders spark primal emotions ranging from fear to comfort, but for Bourgeois, they speak of childhood and of home, while webs are like our psyches - a network of past memories informing our present. In her 1998 exhibition, the artist related an extensive dream narrative about visiting a "house" that is in fact her subconscious. As she wanders through rooms and emotional reveries, Bourgeois "[continues] to visit the house every day, without flagging, even if I'm afraid sometimes, even if I always suffer for it. ~I even feel it's me who controls the house to a certain extent, ~ -- by deciding which doors to open, by picking a path among the shifting stories. Then I feel I exist...I am mistress of the house." (Exh. Cat., London, Serpentine Gallery, Louise Bourgeois, 1998, p. 9)
Within this house of memory and reflection, the Spider is the other being. Although Bourgeois acknowledges the primal fear of spiders as predators, she observes no webs in her inner house and the Spider is a benign presence. Bourgeois' family business was the restoration of ancient tapestries, so the Spider as a weaver would be a familiar rather than threatening figure. The nurturing character of the Spider, so magnificently given form in the present work, becomes explicit in a text published with a suite of nine etchings employing the spider motif from 1995 titled Ode à Ma Mère. "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 as useful as a spider." This final allusion to a need for protection also hints at the contradictory impulses of this complex artist. Elsewhere in Ode à Ma Mère, the spider is immersed in the artist's discussions about fear, despair, nihilism, blame and fault ("It is Papa's fault. It is Nanny's fault"). Bourgeois addresses a direct enquiry to "Little Maman" about who is lying and asks for forgiveness that it is in fact herself who has lied.
In this discourse, the unnamed presence is the artist's father who looms large in her subconscious. Outwardly, the Bourgeois family was a model of gentility and prosperity. Yet, the children were aware that their tutor was their father's mistress, a situation reluctantly accepted by their mother, who eventually died after a protracted illness. The psychological effect of this marital triangle with its cross-currents of betrayal, anger and fidelity have become the accepted "myth" around which Bourgeois' artistic identity has been constructed, both by critics and the artist herself. While her writings appear to reveal the artist's subconscious to a marked extent, her installations and sculptures, such as Spider, still retain a deeply mysterious and subtle air, hinting at reserves of experience that we can still only guess at. Jerry Gorovoy commented that "Bourgeois is able to give a palpable specificity to her memories. More than just marking time, and nostalgic reminiscing, Bourgeois wants through her sculpture to re-create the past, to have total recall to the emotions, to analyze the event, to control it, to correct it, and finally to forgive and forget it. ~Bourgeois' sculptures mark a collection of traumas, fears, anxieties, resentments and unfulfilled desires which through her sculptures she is able to exorcise." (Exh. Cat., Yokohama Museum of Art, Louise Bourgeois: Homesickness, 1997, n. p.)