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Study of a Masterpiece: "Mother" by Louise Bourgeois
A closer look 16 May 2018

Study of a Masterpiece: "Mother" by Louise Bourgeois

Louise Bourgeois
Maman, Bronze, 1999

This week, Artsper offers you to study an essential work of art and to give you a sort of micro-review and its interpretation. We begin with Maman by Louise Bourgeois.
“All my work, all the subjects, find their origin in my childhood”.

Some words about the artist

Louise Bourgeois is a sculptor and plastic-oriented artist who was born in Paris on December 25th 1911 and died in New York on May 31st 2010. She worked especially on universality, relations between beings, love and the frustration between lovers or members of a same family themes, and also on erotism, but her work is about procreation, birth and maternity, under the shape of “women-houses” that mixes body and architecture. The governing principle of her work is the phallus (which represents the father) and the spider, which represent the mother.

The work

“Maman” is part of a series of sculptures, most of all called “Spider”. It is ordered to Louise Bourgeois for her inaugural participation at the Unilever Series in 1999 and exhibited in the hugo Turbine Hall of London, UK. The spider has already landed in Paris, Saint Petersburg, Tokyo, Copenhagen, Denver, Kansas City, San Francisco, New York and London. It is currently in Ottawa, Canada.

“Maman” uses again the spider theme, on which Bourgeois already worked in a small ink and coal drawing in 1947, and reveal the autobiographical character of the work. Indeed, we can interpret this work as a tribute to her mother, Joséphine Bourgeois, who repaired tapestries in her husband’s workshop in Paris and at whom the artist looked when she was a child. We find in this sculpture the metaphors of spinning, weaving, care and protection. The maternity theme is also present when we look under the abdomen: a kind of fenced pocket holds 26 marble eggs.

Louise Bourgeois, Maman, Bronze, 1999
Maman, Bronze, 1999

It is important to know that Louise’s mother died when she was 21. Therefore, she tried to commit suicide because of the deep pain she felt. “The spider is an ode to my mother (…) because my mother was as smart, patient, clean and useful, reasonable, essential as a spider”. The huge size of the work can show the significance of the subject to the artist, like during the middle-age when some characters were shown in a disproportionate way in order to signify the power.

Installed in the urban or museum space, the sculpture can be seen in two different ways. The pedestrians can walk between the legs, being part of the work and the sculpture can also be used as a shelter or protecting roof for the walkers. In the contrary, the insect can signify the insecurity, or even the threat, because of its huge size, the material used and its blackness.

Anyway, she is part of inhabitants life who have the role to make her laugh and to give her a sense. And this is what the 20th Century gave to the art: deconsecrate art to make it accessible to everyone.