Suggested Research – Louise Bourgeois

I did not recognise the name Louise Bourgeois, but when I looked at her work I instantly knew her HUGE spider sculpture, MamanMaman is a bronze, stainless steel, and marble sculpture, which depicts a spider. It measures over 30 ft high and over 33 ft wide and was created in 1999 by Bourgeois as a part of her inaugural commission of The Unilever Series (2000), in the Turbine Hall at London’s Tate Modern. The original was created in steel, with an edition of six subsequent castings in bronze. It includes a sac containing 26 marble eggs, and its abdomen and thorax are made of ribbed bronze.

It would seem that Bourgeois had a fascination with spiders from early on; there is a small ink and charcoal drawing dated 1947.


It alludes to the strength of Bourgeois’ mother, with metaphors of spinning, weaving, nurture and protection.Her mother Josephine was a woman who repaired tapestries in her father’s textile restoration workshop in Paris.

‘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.’

Her father was apparently ‘a tyrannical philanderer’ and after her mother died in 1932, she swapped her studies in maths to art. Her father thought ‘modern artists were wastrels’ and refused to support her, however she continued to study by joining classes where translators were needed for English-speaking students, these translators were not charged tuition.  During one of these classes she met Fernand Léger who advised her that her future was as a sculptor, not a painter.

Turning to her father’s indiscretions for inspiration- he had an affair with the family Nanny over several years- Bourgeois’ artwork is famous for its exceedingly personal themes: the unconscious, sexual desire, and the body.

Using art as a catharsis Bourgeois ‘transformed her experiences into a visual language using mythological and archetypal imagery’, utilising objects such as spirals, spiders, cages, medical tools, and sewn appendages to symbolize the feminine psyche, beauty, and psychological pain.

I really like her piece of work 10am is when you come to me. I love the symbolism of the time shared together with her assistant, the motif of the hand to symbolise dependency and support, the colour red to possibly symbolise emotional intensity and the musical score paper it is painted on ‘further emphasises the rhythm of Bourgeois and Gorovoy’s relationship’.


A full explanation of the piece is on the Tate website here.

It took a long time for Bourgeois to receive any real recognition and finally had her first retrospective in 1982, held by the MoMA in New York City. This was followed by another in 1989 at Documenta 9 in Kassel, Germany. In 2000 her works were selected to be shown at the opening of the Tate Modern in London and in 2001, she showed at the Hermitage Museum. Although Bourgeois exhibited with the Abstract Expressionists such as Robert Motherwell, Jackson Pollock, and Mark Rothko, and her work has much in common with Surrealism and Feminist art, she was not really part of any particular artistic movement.

On the Tate website there is a short video interview she gave.

More of her work is described here.

Like Kienholz she drew on personal experiences and passions for political and social issues to inform her artwork. Bourgeois created artwork for the AIDS activist organization ACT UP in 1993 and in 2010 she promoted LGBT equality by creating the piece I Do, depicting two flowers growing from one stem, to benefit the nonprofit organization Freedom to Marry. Bourgeois said ‘Everyone should have the right to marry. To make a commitment to love someone forever is a beautiful thing.’


Although an artist/sculptor rather than a photographer Louise Bourgeois was a brilliant person to research, as she once more underlined the way you can draw on personal/shared experiences to influence your creative processes in different directions. Also her use of quite surreal metaphors for ordinary everyday subjects was enlightening.