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The Hood Celebrates the Arrival of Louise Bourgeois’s Celebrated Sculpture Crouching Spider

Hood Quarterly, winter 2013

As part of the Year of the Arts initiative at Dartmouth during the 2012–13 academic year, Crouching Spider by French-born American artist Louise Bourgeois (1911–2010) has been installed on campus in the Maffei Arts Plaza, in front of the new Black Family Visual Arts Center.

For more than seven decades, Bourgeois pursued conflicting psychological and emotional impulses to create intensely autobiographical sculptures that also addressed universal themes, such as alienation, identity, sexuality, and death.

Born in Paris on Christmas Day, Bourgeois studied mathematics at the Sorbonne, then switched to the study of art in 1932 following the death of her mother. She began her career as a painter but found her true medium after the famous French painter Fernand Léger looked at one of her drawings and presciently told her that she was a sculptor, not a painter. In 1938, Bourgeois married Robert Goldwater, a professor of art and art history at New York University’s Institute of Fine Arts. They moved to New York where she completed her studies at the Art Students League. Over the next few decades, Bourgeois experimented in a wide variety of media, including wood, plaster, bronze, latex, and marble, and in doing so developed a unique vocabulary of sculptural forms often related to her psychic demons and personal obsessions.

By 1982, when the Museum of Modern Art in New York gave her a major retrospective exhibition, Bourgeois had become recognized as one of the most influential and innovative sculptors of the twentieth century. Her reputation as one of the world’s leading contemporary artists was also cemented in 1997 when she received the National Medal of Arts from President Clinton.

In the late 1990s, she began creating a series of monumental spider sculptures that are among the most important works of public art to have been created in recent decades. Crouching Spider, which the artist made in 2003, was intended as an ode to her mother, who died when Bourgeois was twenty-one years old and just beginning her career as an artist. Bourgeois was first exposed to art as a young child when she helped her mother, Joséphine, dye fabrics and repair medieval tapestries in the family’s textile restoration business in Paris. “She was my best friend,” the artist later recalled. “Like a spider, my mother was a weaver. My family was in the business of tapestry restoration, and my mother was in charge of the workshop. Like spiders, my mother was very clever. Spiders are friendly presences that eat mosquitoes. We know that mosquitoes spread diseases and are therefore unwanted. So, spiders are helpful and protective, just like my mother.”

“Crouching Spider uses metaphors of spinning, weaving, nurture, and protection that are commonly associated with arachnids to allude to the strength, skill, intelligence, and kindness of her beloved mother,” said Michael Taylor, Director of the Hood Museum of Art and Chair of the Public Art Committee at Dartmouth College. “According to Louise, it was her mother’s tenacious spirit that inspired her uncompromising vision as a sculptor.” This immense sculpture in bronze and stainless steel has been placed on a yearlong loan to Dartmouth from the Estate of Louise Bourgeois.

Hood Museum