Louise Bourgeois

Spider I


Not on display

Louise Bourgeois 1911–2010
Bronze, dark and polished patina, wall piece
Object: 304 × 1005 × 1215 mm, 36 kg
Tate and National Galleries of Scotland. Lent by The Easton Foundation 2013
On long term loan


Spider I is a bronze wall-mounted sculpture with a polished black patina made in 1995 by the French-born American artist Louise Bourgeois. Taking the form of a large spider crawling up a wall, Spider I is fastened to the surface with two bolts that are secured through rings situated on the sculpture’s front legs. Spider I was produced in an edition of six plus one artist’s proof.

In 1995, the year that she made Spider I, Bourgeois published the poem ‘Ode to my Mother’ (‘Ode à ma mère’) alongside a suite of nine etchings depicting spiders that were published by Editions du Solstice, Paris. In the poem the artist relates the spider to a maternal figure, her own mother in particular, who was a weaver and the manager of the family’s antique tapestry restoration business:

The friend (the spider – why the spider?) because my best friend was my mother and she was deliberate, clever, patient, soothing, reasonable, dainty, subtle, indispensable, neat, and useful as an araignée. She could also defend herself, and me, by refusing to answer ‘stupid’, inquisitive, embarrassing personal questions.
I shall never tire of representing her.
I want to: eat, sleep, argue, hurt, destroy
Why do you?
My reasons belong exclusively to me.
The treatment of Fear.
(Quoted in Tate Modern 2000, p.62.)

The spider is a recurring motif in Bourgeois’s oeuvre. She first depicted it in a small ink and charcoal drawing of 1947 that was also entitled Spider, but the subject began to appear more frequently in her sculptures, drawings and prints in the mid-1990s, and she remained interested in the theme until late in life. The artist made sculptures of arachnids ranging in size from a small brooch to monumental outdoor works measuring over ten metres high. One of Bourgeois’s largest spider sculptures is the iconic Maman (Tate T12625), made of steel and marble in 1999 as part of her Turbine Hall commission for the opening of Tate Modern in London in May 2000. Other versions include Spider 1994 (Tate AL00354).

Further reading
Louise Bourgeois, exhibition catalogue, Tate Modern, London 2000.
Louise Bourgeois: Maman, exhibition catalogue, Wanås Foundation and Atlantis, Stockholm 2007.
Ann Coxon, Louise Bourgeois, London 2010.

Natasha Adamou
May 2016

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Display caption

During the 1990s Bourgeois made a number of spider sculptures. She associated the spider with her mother who spent her days weaving and stitching as she repaired antique tapestries for the family business. Bourgeois explained, ‘I came from a family of repairers. The spider is a repairer. If you bash into the web of a spider, she doesn’t get mad. She weaves and she repairs it.’

Gallery label, October 2016

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