“Maman” or “Mammon?”

Louise Bourgeois, "Maman,"  bronze and marble.
Louise Bourgeois, “Maman,” bronze and marble.


I have never been one that is afraid of spiders, but this giant arachnid terrifies me. Although Louise Bourgeois, did not see it that way. She says of the sculpture: “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 photograph, taken outside of the Guggenheim in Bilbao, Spain, does  reflect that I think. When you read Bourgeois’ words, your mind goes from ‘this thing is going to eat her’, to ‘its protecting her.’ I suppose a mother’s love can be fierce and terrifying if you are on the receiving end of her wrath. This interpretation of motherly love may very well stem from Bourgeois’ childhood, where she witnessed her father have an affair with her tutor while her mother lay sick in with influenza. The scale of the work further draws parallels between Bourgeois’ belief in the links between architecture and memory – this spider certainly has structural influences. Perhaps she is embodying this spider with the power her mother didn’t have?


I chose Bourgeois’ “Maman,” not just for its brilliance, but to illustrate a further point. As viewers of art, we are free to adapt meaning and create new interpretations. I will use this work as an example: a few weeks ago in church (Crossroads Christian Church, Corona, CA) Pastor Chuck spoke about ‘casting of the spirit of Mammon.’ Now I realize – completely different words and etymologies; ‘Maman’ being French for ‘Mother,’ while ‘Mammon’ which is derived from Latin, Hebrew, and Greek) roughly means ‘riches,’ ‘money,’ or even ‘that in which one trusts.’ This is where the whole ‘the love of money is the root of all evil’ discussion comes from. It is further believed that Mammon is not just an idea, but a demonic presence; one that breeds greed, selfishness, and destruction. Robert Morris, in his book “The Blessed Life,” tells us that “Mammon promises you everything, but gives you nothing.” Couldn’t you just see Mammon looking like a giant spider; traipsing around, hovering over you ready to devour any blessing that comes your way? Preventing you from giving, locking you in a jail cell made of its giant steel legs?  And how interesting is it that there are 8 casts of this work placed permanently, and (have been) 16 temporary exhibition sites for this work – all in major cultural and economic centers of the world? I know it is a far stretch (and some would say misappropriation), but, for me, this is part of what makes art beautiful – is its ability to transgress, to not be boxed in, to evolve, shift and enlighten! Maman, the mother, and Mammon, the spirit both bring extraordinary depth to this work.


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