• Michael

Maman


Back in May of 2005, the CBC News ran an article titled “Huge Spider Erected Outside National Gallery.” They talked about how the National Gallery of Canada spent $3.2 million, the most it ever spent on a single work at that time, on a massive bronze spider carrying 26 white marble eggs. Like other expensive purchases made by the gallery, including U.S. artist Barnett Newman's “Voice of Fire” which was purchased for $1.76 million in 1990, this one too was met with some controversy, but perhaps less than the “Voice of Fire”.

According to the National Gallery of Canada, Maman (French for Mother) was purchased in 2004, cast in 2003, measures 927 x 891 x 1024 cm, and is made from bronze, stainless steel, and marble. The creator was Louise Joséphine Bourgeois (1911-2010), a French-American artist who explored a variety of mediums including painting, printmaking, sculpture, and art installations over her long career. Best known by the masses for these spider creations that span the globe, there has been much written about her and her work over the years. There are 7 versions of Maman spread throughout the globe and many other similar spider creations including some that measure less than 2 meters, (Spider II) and others like Crouching Spider in Provence, France that measure 270.5 x 835.6 x 627.3 cm.

The first Maman sculpture created is owned by the Tate Modern in London UK and is the only version of Maman made almost entirely from stainless steel. Six other versions of iconic sculpture were cast from bronze including our very own here in Ottawa.

The 6 bronze versions are on permanent display at the following sites around the world:

  1. Bentonville, Arkansas, USA at the Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art

  2. Bilbao, Spain at the Guggenheim Museum

  3. Doha, Qatar at the Qatar National Convention Center

  4. Ottawa, Ontario, Canada at the National Art Gallery

  5. Seoul, Korea at the Samsung Museum of Art

  6. Tokyo, Japan at the MoriArtCenter

These 6 were all cast exclusively at the Modern Art Foundry in Astoria, Queens, New York, an institution that largely specializes in limited edition works or works destined for museums and galleries. If your curious about the Foundry there’s an article in untapped new york by Michelle Young that talks a little more about them and a YouTube video by Dianne Durante, A Visit to Modern Art Foundry, New York City that shows some of the castings.

The article from the CBC says that the sculpture is 6000 pounds and contains 26 marble eggs, while Wikipedia says there are 32 marble eggs and the National Gallery of Canada doesn’t appear to reference the number of eggs in their description online. While looking underneath the piece, I couldn’t count more than 10, but given that it’s +9 meters tall and the sac itself is surrounded by metal mesh, I have no idea how many are actually there.

Years ago, my daughter would make a point of asking to go by this sculpture on our return trip home from visiting family in the area. Whenever I came close, I would let her know… "we’re almost there!" When it was in view, she would often act fearful, bow her head slightly so as not to be seen by the spider, and pear out the window with squinted eyes. It remains a favorite piece to this day, with less fear of course.

Location Address: 380 Sussex Drive, Ottawa, Ontario, Canada, K1N 9N4