I once met Louise Bourgeois. She was a marvelous, elfin, dirty old French lady who made some of the most compelling sculpture and drawings of the last 50 years. She was a bit like licorice; you loved her or hated her. I loved her ferocious sculptures of spiders. Gigantic and full of feminine menace, they were present, for me, in a way that was unnerving. I remember the first time I saw one at the Tate Modern in London. I was standing on the balustrade above the piece. From above, it looked predatory, and when people walked underneath the giant arachnid, it looked as if she might just eat them. I say, “she” because they always seemed female to me, for no particular reason. They just did. I think this was part of Louise Bourgeois’ power as an artist; the ability to feminize a powerful figure without saying so. When I met her she was already in her 80s and she told me that, “Boys become artists to fuck all the girls.” I replied that we certainly give it a good faith effort. She laughed a greasy conspiratorial laugh and I liked her immediately. She wasn’t like anyone’s grandma.
Louise Bourgeois died a couple of weeks ago. She was 98 years old; witness to a century. She didn’t become well-known until she was in her 70s. As progressive a place as the art world pretends it is, it was still, for much her life anyway, a boys’ network. I don’t think it is any accident that so much of Ms. Bourgeois’ work was rooted in gender. In the end, she won. She climbed the art world’s mountain of nails and she got to the top. . .all 90 pounds of her.
Spiders have always scared the hell out of me. Only lately have I stopped killing them. They are incredibly useful; eating nits and mosquitoes and flies and lots of them, still…they give me the willies.
My favorite childhood story is about a spider: Charlotte’s Web. It is a beautiful meditation on the life-cycle, without all of the religious horseshit. At the end, when the hundreds of Charlotte’s babies are blown into the world, suspended by their silken-thread parachutes, I’d cry like a baby. My daughter, Gaby loved this story and for years would make me read it to her at bedtime.
Charlotte and Louise are a bit alike. Each lived long enough to spawn a new generation. Charlotte with her babies, Louise the many young women (and men) who will look at her work, in its perverse playful and sinister humor and take these ideas forward into their work and into the world. This one is for that magnificent, dirty old French broad. Bless her.
It’s called ‘The Orange Spider’