Arachnophobes beware. Standing proud at the entrance to Museum Voorlinden, on the outskirts of The Hague, is a giant 10-metre-tall spider. This one is not so ‘incy wincy’.

The eight-legged creature, Maman, is one of the most famous of French-American artist Louise Bourgeois’ works. It looms tall, acting as gatekeeper to those visiting the artist’s survey exhibition To Unravel a Torment. Made from stainless steel, its spindly line-drawn legs bear the weight of small ribbed body, beneath which lies an egg sac, full of 17 marble eggs resting high in the air. This spider is a mother.

Maman is symptomatic of Bourgeois’ interests, with much of her work focused on family, the body, death and the unconscious. Her childhood was troubled, and she would delve into this traumatic well in order to create works. Seeing art making as a therapeutic process, Bourgeois would explore themes in depth, with a wit and trademark daring that meant she never belonged to a particular movement. She was too real for the Abstract Expressionists, and too existential for the surrealists. Instead, she paved a unique path that made her one of the 20th century’s artistic icons, and a feminist pioneer.

The 40 works of sculpture and painting on show highlight a six-decade long exploration into some of the darker recesses of the human mind. Some works, like Maman, induce an almost physical response to them. However, lurking beneath the surface is something charming. In her own words, the artist “transforms hate into love”. And as the initial horror pales, the warmth and vulnerability of Louise Bourgeois begins to creep and crawl under your skin.

To Unravel a Torment is on show at Museum Voorlinden, Wassenaar, until 5 May 2020.

Matt Antoniak is a visual artist and writer living and working in Newcastle, UK. He works mainly in painting and drawing and is a founding member of the art collective M I L K.

Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this column are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of Discover Benelux.

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