- Louise Bourgeois
- Spider III
- incised with initials, numbered 5/6 and stamped MAF 99 on the underside
- 19 by 39 1/2 by 37 1/2 in. 48.2 by 100.3 by 95.2 cm.
- Conceived in 1995 and cast in 1999.
Private Collection, Washington, D.C.
Cheim & Read, New York
Acquired from the above by the present owner
Brussels, Xavier Hufkens Gallery, Louise Bourgeois, December 1996 - February 1997 (edition no. 2/6)
Cincinnati, Contemporary Arts Center, Louise Bourgeois: Ode à Ma Mère, April - June 1997 (edition no. 1/6)
Exh. Cat., London, Tate Gallery, Louise Bourgeois, 2000, pp. 62-63, illustrated in color (edition no. unknown)
Images of a spider recur throughout Bourgeois’ work, constituting a prolonged series of drawings, sculptures, prints, and installations, each representing a large creature, hovering over a page, a wall, a ceiling, a room, or above one of the artist’s architectural Cell installations. First explored by the artist in a small ink and charcoal drawing of 1947, Bourgeois’ favored theme was not translated into the third dimension until 1994, the year just preceding the present work’s execution. The first Spider sculpture was constructed using found forms: legs made from straight sections of steel tube bent at angles to support a torso comprised of a glass jar with a rounded base that hung below a steel globe. The present Spider is executed in the bronze medium that would come to define subsequent works from the cycle. Spiders are powerfully evocative, sparking primal emotions ranging from fear to comfort, and for Bourgeois, they spoke of childhood and a narrative of home, filled with woven webs of past memories informing her present. In a text published for her 1998 European traveling exhibition, the artist related an extensive dream narrative about visiting a house that is in fact, her subconscious. Within this house of memory and reflection, the Spider is the other being, acting as both an entrapping predator and a benign presence fostering creativity. As the Spider wove, so Bourgeois drew and sculpted. In biographical terms, the Bourgeois family business was to restore antique tapestries, so the narrative aspect of art was a core concept that Bourgeois used to potent effect with her metaphorical mother, the Spider. “An eight-legged shadow will loom over me. I wouldn’t be afraid though. ...The spider would… begin to sew, for me and forever, a huge web to tuck me in. She’d seal all the openings, block all the doors, repair all the torn fabric, line the stairs with downy threads to soften potential falls, fill all the empty corners. ...She’d stay here forever, by my side…” (the artist cited in Exh. Cat., London, Serpentine Gallery, Louise Bourgeois, 1998, p. 10)
The maternal, nurturing character of the Spider is unmistakable in Bourgeois’ dream-play, and becomes explicit in a text published with a suite of nine Spider etchings 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. She could also defend herself, and me, …” This seminal set of etchings gave way to an exhibition of the same name, staged two years later at the Contemporary Arts Center in Cincinnati, at which another example of the bronze Spider III was featured. The final allusion to a need for protection hints at the very contradictory emotions and impulses of this most complex artist, all emanating from the basic trauma of her early life which she filtered through her art to construct a mythic legend that permeated her aesthetic psyche.
While Spider III and its illustrious family of arachnids of different shapes and sizes are exceptionally personal works, Bourgeois’ art still retains a deeply mysterious and subtle air, hinting at reserves of experience and memory that may mirror both the artist and the viewer’s perception. In writing of Bourgeois’ rich metaphorical landscape, Jerry Gorovoy commented, “Through shape and line, material and texture, 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.)