Imagine this, you walk through a small industrial doorway into a dimly lit but large room. As your eyes adjust you realise you are being confronted by a towering arachnid, poised as if it’s about to scuttle out of the crevice you just walked through. No, this is not a scene from the notoriously bad film ‘eight legged freaks‘ but the work of critically acclaimed artist Louise Bourgeois.
Louise Bourgeois has long been one of my favourite artists. This perhaps may be due to the surprising and exciting quality of her ‘Maman’ series, which as a a child felt refreshing in comparison to the stiff 2D classical paintings that I was often used to seeing. I remember first witnessing her spider sculpture at the Guggenheim in Bilbao, and being struck by the haunting quality of the sculpture contrasting with the implied meaning of ‘motherhood’, throwing the symbol of the spider into a more positive light.
The gallery space was a perfect setting for the large sculpture, as the bare brick walls and large wooden stable door felt like an authentic backdrop for such a feared creature. The spider seemed almost claustrophobic due to it’s twisted legs easily swallowing the large room. The shadows cast by the legs increased the eerie atmosphere, as it emphasised it’ s impressive structure, which you could easily walk beneath and amongst, struggling to dodge the eight legs which were scattered irregularly around the central body.
In the following galleries, spiders were nowhere to be seen and instead etchings took over, contrasting with the previous unsettling sculpture, calmness ensued, although the arachnophobic may argue some of the work resembled cobwebs.
Hauser and Wirth’s press release claimed the etchings ‘capture the strength and intimacy of the artist’s hand’ and reflect the artist’s ideas on ‘femininity, sexuality, botany, family and infancy’. I was unaware of this more subtle side to Bourgeois’ work, however i found the naivety and flowing quality of line within the etchings beautiful and satisfying.
In the above piece the idea was to turn the gaze onto the viewer, so that the work itself is staring into the onlookers eyes.
My personal favourite of the etchings is the piece pictured above, as I find I’m always drawn to art which includes interesting typography.
I found myself nearly missing out on a significant part of the exhibition, a series of photographic portraits of Bourgeois taken in the final years of her life, however I luckily stumbled across it on a walk within the galleries’ impressive gardens. Within the Implement Shed hung several beautiful photographs of Louise Bourgeois at her home, in various emotive states. Colourful fabric spiders hung from the ceiling, making a strikingly similar comparison between Bourgeois and the form of the spider which took such prevalence within her work.