Louise Bourgeois died yesterday. Perhaps at that very moment I was in the garden of the Leeum museum in Seoul being humbled by her sculpture, Maman. I had previously run into Maman at the Tate about a decade ago. She’s not someone you easily forget. At first all you notice is the immense, menacing, and tremendously unsettling spider. Then you notice that there’s a smaller spider nearby, perhaps a child. And then, much later, you notice that the larger spider has a sac at her belly, filled with eggs. She’s a mother (hence her name, which is french for the same). But this is not your canonical nurturing, soothing, swaddling mother figure.
The Leeum museum is outstanding: an oasis in the heart of Seoul. The museum is split into 3 buildings, each distinct and marvelous (both architecturally, and for their contents). One wing consists entirely of ancient art, with a beautiful collection of celadon (coming from someone that has always had trouble appreciating old pots and jars). One wing is an interactive space, encouraging you to be creative in various clever ways (and with lots to entertain children, who have no doubt suffered from hours of museum-going). The third wing is one of the most impressive small collections of contemporary art I have ever seen, including pieces by Warhol, Close, and a whole alcove devoted to Barney (with Cremaster 3 running on a loop). My favorites by far were two beautiful pieces by Richter: a photo-painting of two lit candles and a gorgeous abstract. As you leave the museum you wander into the garden, and confront the 3-story high mother in all her glory. There is something primal about the encounter, especially as the vast metropolis of Seoul stretches out in the distance below.
Although Bourgeois is now gone, her spiders will no doubt haunt generations to come.