HORROR MONTH #11: Maman, by Louise Bourgeois (1999)

Type of Media: Sculpture

Out of all the different kinds of artists, I've always been the most jealous of sculptors. I love the presence of sculptures, how they aren't confined to a page or piece of canvas and fill up real space. I love their tangibility. Judging from the massive popularity of the Urban Lights sculpture outside LACMA, I assume I'm not alone.

The sculptures of Louise Bourgeois are popular too, but probably not for the same reasons as Urban Lights. Her works depict strange furniture displayed in cages, severed body parts arranged in geometric designs, and totemic people made of fabric. However, by far her most popular work is Maman, a massive 30-foot-tall spider made of black steel, holding a sac of white marble eggs.

In person, Maman is terrifying. Though made of steel, Maman is not smooth and sleek. Its legs are pieces of twisting segmented rods that jut and buckle in a naturalistic way. Its thorax is made of uneven wrapped layers of metal with no indication of a head. Beneath, its eggs hang protected by a sac of chain link reinforced with ribs that look like bone, appearing almost like a warped figure is clutching them while hanging upside-down like a bat.

Maman is French for Mother. It may seem like an insult at first, but Bourgeois loved and respected her mother. It was her father she despised, as Bourgeois found out when she was a young girl that he was having an affair with the family housekeeper. According to Bourgeois, when her mother died her father didn't seem to grieve and didn't take her despair seriously.

Instead, Maman is supposed to be a symbol of power and protection. It towers over everyone, imposing, frightening away anything that would try to harm its sac of precious, perfectly spherical eggs. Bourgeois chose a spider since her mother was the head of the workshop for the family's tapestry business. A cunning weaver that you don't want to cross.

Bourgeois has produced several spider sculptures, though Maman is the largest and the only one made of steel (the rest are bronze). The spider sculptures have broken several records for the highest amount of money paid for a female artist's work, most recently in 2011 when a spider sold for over $10 million. You can find one in D.C. in the Sculpture Garden, and another in Kansas City at the Kemper Comtemporary Art Museum. While it isn't Maman exactly, you should still seek one of these sculptures out if you're nearby. It might make you think twice about killing a spider next time you see one.