Louise Joséphine Bourgeois; 25 December 1911 – 31 May 2010) was a French-American artist. Although she is best known for her large-scale sculpture and installation art, Bourgeois was also a prolific painter and printmaker. She explored a variety of themes over the course of her long career including domesticity and the family, sexuality and the body, as well as death and the subconscious. These themes connect to events from her childhood which she considered to be a therapeutic process. Although Bourgeois exhibited with the Abstract Expressionists and her work has much in common with Surrealism and Feminist art, she was not formally affiliated with a particular artistic movement.
Maman is a monumental steel spider, so large that it can only be installed out of doors, or inside a building of industrial scale. Supported on eight slender, knobbly legs, its body is suspended high above the ground, allowing the viewer to walk around and underneath it. Each ribbed leg ending in a sharp-tipped point is made of two pieces of steel, and attached to a collar above which an irregularly ribbed spiralling body rises, balanced by a similar sized egg sac below. The meshed sac contains seventeen white and grey marble eggs that hang above the viewer’s head, gleaming in the darkness of their under-body cavity. Maman was made for the opening of Tate Modern in May 2000 as part of Bourgeois’s commission for the Turbine Hall, the grand central space of the museum. The sculpture was installed on the bridge, overlooking three tall steel towers entitled I Do, I Undo and I Redo, referring to processes of emotional development in relation to motherhood, a central theme in the artist’s oeuvre. An edition of six bronze casts was created subsequent to Tate’s original steel version; their marble eggs have pinker tones than those of T12625.
Maman is the largest of a series of steel spider sculptures that Bourgeois created in the second half of the 1990s, picking up a motif that she first depicted in a small ink and charcoal drawing in 1947. Spider (reproduced Morris p.279) shows a body and round head supported on eight stiff stick-like legs with rudimentary feet and eyes that are curiously multiple and joined. In 1994 she drew a similar figure in red ink, gouache and crayon (reproduced Louise Bourgeois: Maman, p.79); this spider stands upright on four legs that stem from its lower body, two of which are particularly emphasised, suggesting a human figure.