“An artist can show things that other people are terrified of expressing.”

― Louise Bourgeois

Louise Bourgeois photographed by James Hamilton, in 1992, with her piece Arch of Hysteria.

Louise Bourgeois photographed by James Hamilton, in 1992, with her piece Arch of Hysteria.

The trailblazing French-American modern artist and prolific contemporary sculptor Louise Joséphine Bourgeois, who died three years ago today in New York City at age 98, left a towering artistic legacy (astonishingly, in the latter part of her life). I love her for many reasons: for her bravery in subject matter and scale; her passion and wit for promoting women in the art world; her courage and conviction (in her 90s) to speak up for equality in the LGBT community; and her energy and drive to teach, inspire and galvanize young talent. But, most of all, I love her for her most recognizable and famous body of work, Maman (Mother, 1999), which is made from recast bronze, and displays an arachnid-like sculpture with marble eggs in its sac. The sculpture is one of many, placed throughout the world, measuring over 30 ft high and over 33 ft wide.


Photographed in her studio in NY by Dimitris Yeros in 2009.

Mme. Bourgeois explains:
“The Spider is an ode to my mother. She was my best friend. Like a spider, my mother was a weaver. My family was in the business of tapestry restoration, and my mother was in charge of the workshop. 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.  … The spider is a repairer. If you bash into the web of a spider, she doesn’t get mad. She weaves and repairs it.”


Outside Guggenheim Museum, Bilbao, Spain.


It always makes me pause, or at least try to pause, to react accordingly to all misunderstood creatures. I am always telling Mads and my niece and my nephews that there is no reason to be afraid of spiders — that they are wonderful and creative creatures that eat flies and mosquitoes, which are dirty things that may bite us and make us miserable. I tell them, hopefully convincingly, that the larger they are, the less harmful they are likely to be. 

Recently, however, while cooking, I felt the sensation of something tickling my leg. Absentmindedly, I glanced down and proceeded to do the most wild and levitational Zulu dance ever, all without making a sound so as not to alert Mads, who later wandered into the kitchen while I was feigning calm and vacuuming up the gargantuan carcass that I had evidentially slapped to death. Naturally, I didn’t want her to see that I had murdered the so-called “wonderful creature.” Later, as I emptied the vacuum I found my not-so-Ripley-self whistling “Taps” in an attempt to assuage the creeping, crawly guilt I had begun to feel. Sorry, Maman.

“Art is a guarantee of sanity. That is the most important thing I have said.” 

Louise Bourgeois

Alas, we will not hear Ms. Bourgeois talk again, but her work will continue to speak, or yell, in its own power.



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