My Spidey Sense is Tingling: Louise Bourgeois’ “Maman”

July 8, 2013 — Depending on how you measure them, the world’s largest spider is either the Giant Huntsman or the Goliath Birdeater. Each is only about the size of a dinner plate/nightmare. The largest prehistoric spider that we know of is only an inch or two long. But the second science discovers the fossilized carapace of a primeval spider the size of a house, every theory about a benevolent universe or a loving Creator falls flat on its philosophical face.

Still, I’ve been chasing one particular giant arachnid for years.

And I finally found it...

In 1999, French artist Louise Bourgeois unveiled—with what I assume to have been a massive sheet—Maman, a 30-foot-tall bronze and steel spider-like creature carrying within its abdomen 26 marble eggs. The thing is giant, creepy, and a sincere testament to her mom.

That’s right. You sent yours flowers for Mothers Day, Bourgeois created a towering metal monstrosity for hers. Maman is a French term for mother, and Bourgeois’ mother Josephine was, like the spider, a weaver. She died when Louise was 21. There are also elements of protection and fertility and unshaven legs somewhere in the whole thing. To me, the concept works, and I, for one, would be honored if my kid made me a big bug.

Louise herself died in 2010 at the age of 99, but not before birthing eight of these guys. They’re spread across the world in a conquer formation, with only two being needed for all of North America, one in Kansas City and the other in Ottawa.

Until last weekend, I’d only come across Bourgeois’ other signature sculptural motif: eyeballs. Like the ones in Massachusetts that shoot pink and blue lights out of their pupils. Or the ones in Seattle that you can sit in and watch the cruise ships dock. Or the three pairs in Pittsburgh that complement a 25-foot-tall fountain that she also designed.

And they’re cool…but they’re not giant spiders.

Turns out I ended up in Ottawa before Kansas City, so that’s where I fulfilled the dream/nightmare of looking up the skirt of this enormous eight-legged piece of arachnid art.

Maman is anchored (hopefully) to the large cement plaza in front of the National Gallery of Canada. It’s surrounded by a lot of flat space, giving it a prominence that, let’s face it, the thing deserves.

It’s impressive enough that even were I a local who passed it daily on the way to work, I’d still have to stop every single time and take a picture. Recessed lights surround the sculpture, so I assume Maman is lit up at night, which, of course, leads to the trauma of running into this thing at night.

Depending on what direction you’re viewing it from, it’s either backdropped by the museum, Notre-Dame Cathedral Basilica just across the street, the historic Chateau Laurier hotel, or the Peace Tower of Parliament in the distance.

So no place in Ottawa is safe from this spindly terror. And good for it. Because this thing is awesome, and I won’t listen to any art critic who tells me otherwise.

Oh, and I checked. John Goodman lives in Louisiana. So Ottawa is pretty much screwed.