The mother of all spiders

By Daniel Holz | June 1, 2010 2:37 am

mamanLouise 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.

  • James

    Wow. Big spider.

  • Sili

    I know it’s inappropriate in the circumstances, but “whom” is a dead word. It has joined the choir invisible. Kicked the bucket. Shuffled off its mortal coil. It is not pining for the fjords.

    And even if it were, it’d still be wrong here.

  • daniel

    @Sili: Picky, picky. But you are correct, and I have fixed it. In this circumstance I much prefer “under the circumstances”, but I’ll let your comment go unmolested.

  • Sili

    Molest away.

    It is a very nice spider, though.

  • jesterjester

    not in this circumstance, but grammar girl still cares about whom vs. who. haha. btw, seoul has been hiding this oasis from me? i’ll certainly visit this place when i get back. thanks, daniel.

  • watchingthedeniers

    Sad, an artist I’ve admired for years.

    I saw one of her “Mothers” in London. In person the works are amazing, the scale both terrifies and inspires you. Like crazy spider gods roaming the world, seeding it with their offspring.

  • jick

    Unfortunately, Leeum museum, owned by Korea’s biggest group Samsung, is also a haven facing the sea of corruption. The museum itself, owned by Hong Ra-Hee, wife of Samsung’s CEO, is probably involved with money laundering, although our prosecutors will never dare to investigate just how much.

    A few years ago a lawyer who had worked for Samsung claimed that Samsung bought huge amount of arts for money laundering, including Lichtenstein’s “Happy Tears” at the price of over $7M. That picture enjoyed the biggest fame in Korea for a brief time. The investigators tried very hard not to find any evidence of illegal activity, and quickly closed the case.

    * Sorry for ranting.

  • Brian Too

    I just saw a picture of the Guggenheim Bilbao, and there in the picture was a spider just exactly like this one (or so it seemed).

    Does Maman have multiple installations? Is it a mobile exhibit?

  • Leary O’Beglan

    In compliance with the Law of Gravity, and considering the structural design of this creature relative to her mass, ‘Maman’ could not hold herself erect and would collapse of her own weight at this size. This is true even without factoring in the extra weight of the egg sac. A spider’s body architecture, i.e. essentially a central ‘head’ and thorax suspended upon eight spindly surrounding legs, is viable only up to an indentifiable body mass and weight, which ‘Maman’ has clearly exceeded.

    This is the main reason that spider species are to be found on the smaller-sized end of the all-species-inclusive physical size scale found within Earth’s biosphere: a scale which extends from microbes to blue whales. The design limits of their physical structure simply won’t allow even long-lived species of spiders to attain the size of say, a giant tortoise. Only in Middle-Earth, and not on this Earth, could one encounter a spider the size of Shelob. One more point: no spider is a “child”.


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