In 1996, decades after she had already captivated the art world, Bourgeois introduced a dramatic series of larger-than-life bronze spiders, including this exemplary specimen, forthrightly entitled Spider. Returning to a theme that she had originally contemplated in a 1947 ink drawing, Bourgeois took the initial concept from paper to bronze, magnificently bringing her imagined world to life. Her numerous spiders range in size and style from the present lot, to the cage-enclosed mixed media installation Spider (1997), and culminate in the colossal and aptly named Maman from 1999. A steadfast, exquisitely gargantuan arachnid, Maman was exhibited at the Tate Modern in London and Guggenheim Bilbao where it was received with international acclaim and resulted in Bourgeois being hailed as "Spiderwoman." With unbelievable dexterity, the present lot, Spider, defies the weight and density of its bronze artifice and takes on a sense of fragility, delicately poised on its nimble outstretched legs. In spite of this airy nature and levity, Spider's scale and subject nevertheless project power and even provokes a sense of fear and trepidation in the viewer. Bourgeois's juxtaposing dualities in the work--levity and weight, light and dark, good and bad, attraction and repulsion--all work together to produce a dynamic and elusive understanding to the work, allowing it to continue to mystify and astound viewers.
Throughout her oeuvre, Bourgeois continually demonstrated her penchant for characters and storytelling. While not offering a narrative in the traditional sense of a an old master painting, her sculptural forays have often been inspired by her desire to relate her audience to her sculpture, as well as its disparate components to one another, in order to create her mise en scène. Indeed, in an installation of her early work in 1949, Bourgeois sets up her appropriately named "personages" in relation to the others, so "they can look around the room, but usually look at each other" (L. Bourgeois, quoted in R. Pincus-Witten, Louise Bourgeois: Personages, exh. Cat., Kukje Gallery, Seoul, 2012, p. 19). As evidenced by this early anthropomorphizing of her totemic creations, Bourgeois continued to relate her sculptures in this way both to one another and her audience throughout her career. While itself an individual figure, Spider looms grandly above the viewer, mounted on the wall, as if observing the entire room around her.
While her pieces tend to convey a sense of familiarity or distancing, comfort or discomfort, and familial or alien--all natural and inter-relational human responses--Bourgeois tended to reject these initial romantic associations to nature. On this topic, Bourgeois claimed "This kind of 'how wonderful nature is' attitude depends on the accidental, whereas the work of art is primarily voulu [willed], and should be a matter of the artist's decision" (L. Bourgeois quoted in R. Pincus-Witten, Personages, exh. cat., Kukje Gallery, Seoul, p. 20). Where oftentimes female artists are charged with the necessity to be divinely inspired by nature, the meaning in their work can be dangerously simplified as their natural predilection toward sensitivity, familial and explicitly "feminine" overtones. Bourgeois rejects this simplification of her work and instead would rather view her work in terms of what she refers to as its voulu state of being, allowing the work to exist as it will rather than a forced reaction to her feminine nature.
Despite her protestations to the natural elements of her work, Bourgeois's themes time and again recall clearly autobiographical tendencies and her role within her family. Bourgeois was greatly affected by her mother's illness that led to her untimely death in 1932, and her father's romantic relationship with Bourgeois' English tutor, Sadie. In a symbolic act of rebellion and destruction, Bourgeois's 1974 installation Destruction of the Father both signals a clear distancing of herself from her biological father, and possibly an act of closure for the artist in regards to this initial betrayal. Her father's duplicitousness left Bourgeois with the permanent understanding that men were typically childish and weak, yet also led her on a search for father figures amongst her artistic role models, such as Marcel Duchamp, Alberto Giacometti and Constantin Brancusi. Additionally, like many of her European contemporaries, Bourgeois relocated to New York City during the Second World War and she associated with a number of exiled Surrealists, such as André Breton, Andre Masson and Joan Miró. Clear elements of Surrealism are evident from her early drawings to her later, larger sculptural installations that reference her interest in sublimation and the unconscious.
The artist's Surrealist tendencies have often given her work a dreamlike, and even haunting feel, as her imaginative installations and anthropomorphized figures border between reality and otherworldly. However, the very real spider motif in the artist's body of work has always represented a portrayal of her mother. The spider is a commonly seen trope through history, from its inception in the Roman legend of Arachne, who challenged the goddess Minerva to a weaving contest and transformed into a spider, to Salvador Dali's Daddy Longlegs of the Evening - Hope! from 1940, in which the daddy long-legs acts as a symbol of good luck in the haunting dusk of Dali's imagination. Through these various mythologies and references, the spider is also universally symbolic of the mother, the creator or builder, as well as the destroyer. Both feared and revered in nature, the spider is fiercely protective of her young, and strong enough to defeat an impending threat. Incidentally, the black widow is even known for devouring the male spider--the father--after mating, in order to protect her offspring. This understated power that the spider possesses is the way in which Bourgeois most directly links the spider to her mother. She said in an interview, "with the spider, I try to put across the power and the personality of a modest animal. Modest as it is, it is very definite and it is indestructible...It establishes the fact that the spider is my mother, believe it or not...At some times of the day, the spider is at her best, raring to go and kind of aggressive...I connect her to my mother" (L. Bourgeois, interview with M. Cajori and A. Wallach, quoted in J. Gorovoy et al. Louise Bourgeois: Blue Days and Pink Days, exh. cat., Fondazione Prada, Milan, 1997, p. 254). This statement perfectly embodies the complex duality of the spider both of nature and myth that becomes manifested in Bourgeois's work.
Throughout her long and distinguished artistic career, Bourgeois used memories of her family and her past in order to set a scene for her work. While her work becomes a way to simultaneously protect against and free her from these memories in a constructive way, they can just as easily become a trap to become lost among them. From her early Femme Maison paintings from the 1940s to later works, Bourgeois vacillates between creating feelings of safety, and a sense of losing oneself or being trapped. Spider, too, possesses these alternating feelings of security and danger, as the sculpture can either be seen as protector or predator. In actuality, Spider takes on both of these roles concurrently, which speaks to the incredibly complex role of the mother as nurturer and guardian.
In her vast body of work, Bourgeois oscillates between the evidently figural and the more abstract; between the real and the uncanny. Spider is boldly direct in its figurative nature, yet it is unlike any spider that exists in life; rather it seems to have crawled to life from the pages of a Surrealist journal. Without frame or pedestal, Spider steps into the viewer's reality, breaking the distinction between the two separate planes of the real and the imagined. Both eerily real and larger than life, the work defies the viewer's expectations and questions the preconceived notions of the way a spider should inhabit space. The spider motif remains one the most iconic and meaningful to the artist during a career that spanned nearly eight decades. Representing the extremely personal connection to her mother as well as her own identity as a mother, a child, a woman, Spider stands as a remembrance of the intimate connection to her past, while also evocative of an extreme power in this universal trope.
Stamped with initials, numbered and dated 'LB 1/6 MAF 97' (on the interior of the body)
Louise Bourgeois , 20th Century, Sculptures, Statues & Figures, France, Post War
Milan, Fondazione Prada, Louise Bourgeois, May-July 1997, p. 231 (steel example exhibited and illustrated).
London, Anthony d'Offay Gallery, De Re Metallica, June-July 1997.
Contemporary Art Center of Virginia, Objectivity: International Objects of Subjectivity, December 1997-March 1998 (illustrated in color).
Yokohama Museum of Art, Louise Bourgeois: Homesickness, November 1997-January 1998, pp. 41 and 97 (another example illustrated in color).
Bordeaux, CAPC Musée d' Art Contemporain; Lisbon, Centro Cultural de Belém; Malmö, Kunsthall; London, Serpentine Gallery, Louise Bourgeois: Recent Works, February 1998-January 1999, pp. 29 and 123 (another example illustrated in color).
Cologne, Galerie Karsten Greve, Louise Bourgeois, February-March 1999, p. 105 (another example illustrated in color).
Bielefeld, Kunsthalle Bielefield, Louise Bourgeois, February-May 1999, vol. I, p. 38 (another example illustrated).
Cologne, Trinity Church, Macht und Fursorge, August-October 1999, p. 12 (another example illustrated in color).
Paris, Donjon de Vez, Fabulous Animals, June-September 2002 (another example exhibited).
Hamilton, The Ace Gallery, Louise Bourgeois, August-October 2002 (another example exhibited).
Toyko, Shiraishi Contemporary Art, Spiders: Louise Bourgeois, May - June 2003 (another example exhibited).
Rovereto, MART - Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art, Beauty and the Beasts, December 2004-May 2005 (steel example exhibited).
Doha, Qatar Museum Authority, QMA Gallery, Louise Bourgeois: Conscious and Unconscious, January-June 2012 (another example exhibited).
London, Royal Academy of Arts, Bronze, September-December 2012, pp. 250 and 280 (another example exhibited and illustrated).
POST-WAR & CONTEMPORARY ART
80 x 71 x 21 in. (203.2 x 180.3 x 53.3 cm.)
L. Bourgeois, "La Autoexpression Es Sagrada Y Fatal," Artey Parte, November 1999, no. 23, p. 58 (another example illustrated).
M. Nixon and J. Bird, eds., Oxford Art Journal, 1999, vol. 22, no. 2 (steel example illustrated).
F. Morris and M. Warner, Louise Bourgeois, exh. cat., London, Tate Modern, 2000 (steel example illustrated).
"Exhibition and Theme: Louise Bourgeois," The Art Magazine Wolgan Misool, September 2000, p. 104 (another example illustrated).
U. Grosenick, Women Artists in the 20th Century, Cologne, 2001, p. 65 (steel example illustrated).
M. Schneider-Speller, Louise Bourgeois: Recent Sculptures and Drawings, exh. cat., Beaumontpublic, 2002, p. 24 (another example illustrated).
Animal Fantastique, exh. cat., Picardie, Donjon De Vez, 2002, p. 33 (steel example illustrated).
J. Greenberg and S. Jordan, Runaway Girl: The Artist Louise Bourgeois, New York, 2003, p. 22 (steel example illustrated).
A. Morawinska, Louise Bourgeois: Geometry of Desire, exh. cat., Warsaw, Zacheta Gallery of Art, 2003, p. 207 (steel example illustrated).
B. Stammer, K. Becker, A. Weitzer and V. Schulte-Fishchedick, eds., Louise Bourgeois: Intime Abstraktionen, exh. cat., Berlin, Akademie der Knste, 2003, p. 116 (steel example illustrated).
R. Storr, P. Herkenhoff and A. Schwartzman, Louise Bourgeois, London, 2003, p. 19 (steel example illustrated).
Plop Recent Projects of the Public Art Fund, New York, 2004, p. 63 (another example reproduced).
S. Van Loo, ed., Gorge(L), exh cat., Belgium,The Royal Museum of Fine Arts, 2006, pl. 30 (another example illustrated).
P. Weiermair, Eccentrics, exh. cat., Belgium, Ursula Blickle Stiftung, 2006 (steel example illustrated).
F. Morris, Louise Bourgeois, London, 2007, p. 18 (steel example illustrated).
N. Spero, H. Lang, E. Showalter and D. Bertoni, "Louise Bourgeois I-III," Tate Media, autumn 2007, p. 59 (steel example illustrated).
M. Watchmeister, P. Amsellem, I. Lind, B. Nordal and G. Pollock, Louise Bourgeois: Maman, exh. cat., Kinslinge, The Wans Foundation, 2007, p. 83 (steel example illustrated).
R. D. Marshall, "Interview with Louise Bourgeois, August 23, 2007," Whitewall, winter 2008, p. 125 (steel example illustrated).
C. Pommereau, ed., "Louise Bourgeois au Centre Pompidou," Beaux Arts Magazine, March 2008, p. 73 (steel example illustrated).
S. Russell, Focus on Contemporary Art, Alinea, 2009, p. 55 (steel example illustrated).
A. Coxon, Louise Bourgeois, London, 2010, n.p. (steel example illustrated).
"Alloyed Delights," Financial Times, London, 13 September 2012, p. 11 (another example illustrated).
L. Triendl, "Louise Bourgeois. Passage Danagereux," Vernissage Ausstellungen, January 2012, pp. 3 and 17 (steel example illustrated in color and on the cover).
U. Küster, Louise Bourgeois, Germany, 2013, p. 120 (another example illustrated).
Cheim & Read, New York
Xavier Hufkens, Brussels
Acquired from the above by the present owner