Monthly Archives: February 2017

Gift of the Spider Woman

Maternal metal monster invades Tokyo!

Once you see one big metal spider, you start seeing them everywhere.

Morgan Hill, California, now has its glow-in-the-dark tarantula perched alongside a parking garage. I don’t know of any other spider so glam, so wow, so poised to startle late-night pedestrians.

Bonjour, Maman! My, what big . . . everythings you have. (Photo by Charles Lindsey)


But there are others. In fact, I took a picture (above) of one last summer in Tokyo, little thinking that it was famous and had siblings around the world. I neglected even to inquire about it, assuming (as one would) that in Tokyo you must see large creatures stomping around all the time. Godzilla, after all, hangs out in Shinjuku when he’s between movies and nobody bats an eye.

The big bronze spider I saw is Maman, or “Mommy,” the creation of French-American artist Louise Bourgeois (1911–2010), whose works late in life included many varieties of metal spider sculptures. The original Maman, created in 1999, is made of stainless steel and lives at the Tate Modern in London. Six other castings, all in brooding bronze, are on display in Tokyo, Ottawa, Bilbao, Seoul, Qatar, and Bentonville, Arkansas (in Alice Walton’s museum).

Others of her spidery work include Spider (1996), which guards the National Gallery of Art Sculpture Garden in Washington, DC, and five other sites. It also roams. And racks up record sales figures at auction: $10.7 million, at the time a record for a female artist.

But Maman is Bourgeois’s biggest spider, more than thirty-three feet wide and thirty high. It was a tribute to her mother, who died when Bourgeois was twenty-one. Here is how she explained the work:

The Spider is an ode to my mother. She was my best friend. 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.

This is how artists make us see differently. Arachnophobes cringe at the sight of a work like Maman, especially if they peer upwards and see that the matriarch carries eggs, made of marble, in a giant sac. Bourgeois tried to cast those views, so to speak, in a different light. And like almost all spiders commonly found in the real world, her spider is benign, aloof, committed to a task that has nothing to do with those who gawk at her. They’re sturdy but delicate, menacing but protective.

“The spider is a very lonely creature,” Bourgeois said in one videotaped interview. “Of course, she is very strong. She has an invading power.”

“The Nest,” offering inspiration, and maybe disturbing dreams, at SFMoMA.

Her work The Nest (1994), above, at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art depicts a whole family of metallic spiders, each one guarding the smaller one below it. Spider Couple (2003) has just two, entwined in a leggy embrace. Crouching Spider (2003), below, on the other hand, hums with that invading power, eyelessly challenging the viewer to pounce or be pounced upon.

“Crouching Spider,” lurking along the San Francisco shoreline for a tasty hipster.

Bourgeois’s New York home is being renovated with an eye toward public tours. She liked the place cluttered and utilitarian, once saying, “I’m using the house. The house is not using me.” Oddly, despite all the interviews and documentaries about this famous artist, I’ve been unable to find any information about how she felt about real spiders. I have no doubt the cellar spiders were weaving away in the corners of that studio when she lived there, and are working there still.


Spider in the sky with diamonds

Oh what a lovely web we weave . . .

I finally got a look, a proper nighttime look, at the marvelous tarantula sculpture mounted to the wall of a parking garage in Morgan Hill, California. Here it is!

That’s Venus shining down, by the way. Tell me this ain’t a sight you’d drive all the way to Morgan Hill to see. [Photos by Charles Lindsey]


Recall how the art-loving (and publicity-friendly) civic leaders of this horsy Bay Area town withstood the faint cries of arachnophobes and naysayers and commissioned this sculpture to beautify the garage, which, like all parking garages, could be made more beautiful by practically anything. But in this case, the artwork is a stunner.

You won’t forget where you left your car. (Insert joke about Fiat Spider here.)

The glittering tarantula, by sculptor Gordon Huether, is a tribute to the native tarantulas that prowl the foothills in search of mates. It gleams with the beams of multiple car headlights—I bet you never thought of building a giant spider out of old car parts, did you?—and gives Morgan Hill’s modest downtown a shot of color and charisma.

That glitter rocker who was talking about spiders from Mars? They probably looked like this.








But the surprising thing to me is how spidery it is. The proportions, the graceful bend of a knee, the sense of aloof purpose—all those really do evoke the tarantulas that stride around in the fall. People caricature spiders with the dripping fangs, and the red eyes, and all the other grotesque nonsense, or they draw ticklike silhouettes like the Richmond Spiders mascot  and it’s obvious they have no idea what spiders even look like. Is it any wonder they think spiders are invading beds, and biting British tots, and leaping around, and infiltrating beehive hairdos? Not surprising at all.

Still handsome by day. Just not as electric.

But Huether got it so right. His spider is built on a structure of red metal beams, and like other skilled sculptors he turned that rigid material into a shape suggestive of both grace and heft, like a tarantula itself. Those strong femurs, narrowing down to the delicate tarsi and toes; the front legs raised slightly as the nearsighted animal investigates its path; even the multiple little orbs across its back, reminiscent of a mama wolf spider carrying its babies around. It all evokes not only movement but natural movement.



A spider of that size really would walk, and climb, and pause that way. Here, of course, I need to acknowledge the law of scaling that insists a living spider that big is impossible, at least on our planet. It wouldn’t be able to take in enough oxygen or support its weight, although I bet some cool steel prosthetic legs would help.

Also: laser eyes, as long as we’re blue-skying physiological improvements.

As for the sculpture, I don’t see any room for improvement. It’s perfect. Long may it glow.


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Posted by on February 3, 2017 in Tarantulas