hermitage museum foundation

Louise Bourgeois Sculpture Exhibition Catalogue


Louise Bourgeois’s Spiders in the Hermitage

“In the autumn and winter of 2001 an immense spider created by Louise Bourgeois took up residence in the courtyard of the Winter Palace. To everyone’s amazement the sculpture by one of the most controversial of contemporary artists fitted in exceptionally well among the trees of the palace garden against a background of Baroque columns and scrolls. This once again reflected the nature of the Hermitage where long-established tradition is fond of combining the most varied styles and eras, archaists and innovators, be it in the architecture of the buildings or in the make-up of the collections and exhibitions. The tactful combination of enduring traditions and unobtrusive innovation lies behind all the Hermitage’s activities”, Director Mikhail Piotrovsky wrote in his report on the activities of the State Hermitage for 2001.

“Her unusual sculptural fantasies have been exhibited around the world – in New York, Paris, London, Tokyo and Madrid. Now Russia’s turn has come. An exhibition of the world-famous sculptor whose works can be found in the Guggenheim and the Pompidou Centre is a fundamental step by the Hermitage in the overcoming of museum stereotypes.” (“Spiders by Louise Bourgeois”, article in the periodical Aktivist, N 11, November 2001).

The Spider has become a symbol of Louise Bourgeois’s late work. As early as drawings from 1947 we can find this amazing little creature that lives alongside people, an example of a perfect, rational and expressive construction created by nature. Its web protects, catches food and provides a barrier to dangers. For Bourgeois the spider is associated with her mother, with her patience, the industriousness and masterly skill of the weaver.

Fifty years later Bourgeois again turned to the image of the spider, but this time enlarged it to gigantic dimensions, creating a monumental sculptural form cast in bronze. The combination of disproportionately long, unstable legs and a small round body at first creates an impression of imbalance, but the strict, carefully thought out architectonics of the sculpture, its geometric simplicity and laconism demonstrate the amazing sense of harmonious equilibrium that characterizes the work of Louise Bourgeois.

The artist’s sculptures reflect her interest in the depths of the human psyche, childhood traumas and different aspects of sexuality. Bourgeois’s work is to some extent influenced by the Surrealist school, but it has nevertheless become customary to regard her as a classic figure of minimalism. In 1999, at the 48th Venice Biennale, Louise Bourgeois was given a prestigious award – the Golden Lion – that recognized her status as an acknowledged master in the realm of modern fine art.

“To visitors who come to the Hermitage to enjoy the beauty and harmony this exhibition seems strange. It is hard to imagine that Louise Bourgeois will become one of our favourite artists. Nevertheless it is always interesting to become acquainted with the work of an acknowledged master.” (L. Leusskaya, “A Collection of Memories”, article in the newspaper Sankt-Peterburgskie vedomosti, 12 October 2001).

Researchers speak of the work of Louise Bourgeois, who turned 90 on 25 December 2001, as an encyclopaedia of modern art: they find in it the main tendencies in 20th-century art – Cubism, Futurism, Surrealism, Constructivism and Abstractionism. Louise herself speaks of being “a collector of spaces and memories”.

The “Louise Bourgeois in the Hermitage” exhibition ran from 9 October 2001 to 13 January 2002. In October 2001 the museum also hosted an international conference devoted to the work of Louise Bourgeois in the context of 20th-century art. Artists, researchers and critics from Britain, Germany, Russia and the USA participated in the conference. Two films were shown during the conference: Louise Bourgeois (Arena Films, BBC, London, 1994; director Nigel Finch) and Chère Louise (Les Films du Siamois, Paris, 1995; director Brigitte Cornand).