A Giant Spider Weaves Its Way Around the World

Louise Bourgeois' monumental public sculpture is a modern art icon. Best encountered up close, this itsy bitsy spider just crawled into Zurich.

A Giant Spider Weaves Its Way Around the World
Paulina Szczesniak

DIE WELT/Worldcrunch

Arachnophobes of the world beware, this is one blood-curdling sight: a monumental, 10-meter-high (33 feet) spider. It has taken up residence in downtown Zurich, Switzerland, where it dominates a lakeshore spot on Bürkliplatz.

The arachnid is a sculpture named ‘"Maman‘‘ (Mommy) by Franco-American artist Louise Bourgeois (1911–2010) and it's one of the most popular pieces of contemporary art out there. Both in terms of size, and its effect on people, the bronze and stainless steel spider and its sac of marble eggs is no average piece of art.

On Wednesday night, leg-by-leg, the 11-ton monster was assembled under the watchful eye of a US specialist. It took seven people and two cranes to get the job done. The piece belongs to a private art collection. Before making it to Zurich, the spider spent some time in Bern, where it towered over the Bundesplatz, home of Switzerland's federal parliament. On August 2, it will move on to Geneva.

The giant spider will then continue its Swiss tour in Basel, as the core piece of a retrospective devoted to Louise Bourgeois at the prestigious, Renzo Piano-designed Beyeler Foundation in the suburb of Riehen. The spider will be on display in the museum gardens for an exhibition that opens on September 3 and honors the 100 year anniversary of the artist's birth.

Fueling revenge fantasies

Bourgeois, who died in May 2010 at the age of 98, helped plan the Riehen exhibit. That she was still very active until her last days was in keeping with the artist's life story—fame came late to Bourgeois, who was 70 before New York's MoMA gave her a first retrospective in 1982.

The amazing success she enjoyed after this breakthrough is unsurprising given the uniqueness and impact of her sculptures. They are even more stirring if one considers that this was the Paris-born artist's way of working through memories of her dreadful childhood dominated by a tyrannical and sadistic father. To deal with it, Bourgeois retreated into a dream world, harboring fantasies of revenge reflected in her art.

Fascination and revulsion

Bourgeois' art reached its peak in 1999 when she created the giant spider. She named it Mommy as a tribute to her own mother, a restorer of antique tapestries who spent her days weaving. While there is a lot of humor in Bourgeois' unforgettable embodiment of a web-weaving, brooding uber-mama, the sense of childhood trauma and fundamental fear are palpable too—the spider is both protective and all devouring.

Bourgeois' art was not only a powerful influence on generations of female artists, her spider has also made a huge impact around the world, casting its giant shadow over the Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao, Spain, the Hermitage in St. Petersburg, Russia, and London's Tate Modern. For the next few weeks, Zurich will get to experience that bittersweet ambivalence between fascination and revulsion that grips the belly the way only really good art can.

Read the original article in German

Photo - Dalbera

NOTE: Any earlier version misidentified the source of this article.

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Iran-Saudi Arabia Rivalry May Be Set To Ease, Or Get Much Worse

The Saudis may be awaiting the outcome of Iran's nuclear talks with the West, to see whether Tehran will moderate its regional policies, or lash out like never before.

Military parade in Tehran, Iran, on Oct. 3


LONDON — The Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Saeed Khatibzadeh said earlier this month that Iranian and Saudi negotiators had so far had four rounds of "continuous" talks, though both sides had agreed to keep them private. The talks are to ease fraught relations between Iran's radical Shia regime and the Saudi kingdom, a key Western ally in the Middle East.

Iran's Foreign Minister Hossein Amirabdollahian has said that the talks were going in the right direction, while an Iranian trade official was recently hopeful these might even allow trade opportunities for Iranian businessmen in Saudi Arabia. As the broadcaster France 24 observed separately, it will take more than positive signals to heal a five-year-rift and decades of mutual suspicions.

Agence France-Presse news agency, meanwhile, has cited an unnamed French diplomat as saying that Saudi Arabia wants to end its costly discord with Tehran. The sides may already have agreed to reopen consular offices. For Saudi Arabia, the costs include its war on Iran-backed Houthis rebels fighting an UN-recognized government in next-door Yemen.

The role of the nuclear pact

Bilateral relations were severed in January 2016, after regime militiamen stormed the Saudi embassy in Tehran. Amirabdollahian was then the deputy foreign minister for Arab affairs. In 2019, he told the website Iranian Diplomacy that Saudi Arabia had taken measures vis-a-vis Iran's nuclear pact with the world powers.

It's unlikely Ali Khamenei will tolerate the Saudi kingdom's rising power in the region.

He said "the Saudis' insane conduct toward [the pact] led them to conclude that they must prevent [its implementation] in a peaceful environment ... I think the Saudis are quite deluded, and their delusion consists in thinking that Trump is an opportunity for them to place themselves on the path of conflict with the Islamic Republic while relying on Trump." He meant the administration led by the U.S. President Donald J.Trump, which was hostile to Iran's regime. This, he said, "is not how we view Saudi Arabia. I think Yemen should have been a big lesson for the Saudis."

The minister was effectively admitting the Houthis were the Islamic Republic's tool for getting back at Saudi Arabia.

Yet in the past two years, both sides have taken steps to improve relations, without firm results as yet. Nor is the situation likely to change this time.

Photo of Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei in 2020

Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei in 2020


Riyadh's warming relations with Israel

Iran's former ambassador in Lebanon, Ahmad Dastmalchian, told the ILNA news agency in Tehran that Saudi Arabia is doing Israel's bidding in the region, and has "entrusted its national security, and life and death to Tel Aviv." Riyadh, he said, had been financing a good many "security and political projects in the region," or acting as a "logistical supplier."

The United States, said Dastmalchian, has "in turn tried to provide intelligence and security backing, while Israel has simply followed its own interests in all this."

Furthermore, it seems unlikely Iran's Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei will tolerate, even in this weak period of his leadership, the kingdom's rising power in the region and beyond, and especially its financial clout. He is usually disparaging when he speaks of Riyadh's princely rulers. In 2017, he compared them to "dairy cows," saying, "the idiots think that by giving money and aid, they can attract the goodwill of Islam's enemies."

Iranian regime officials are hopeful of moving toward better diplomatic ties and a reopening of embassies. Yet the balance of power between the sides began to change in Riyadh's favor years ago. For the kingdom's power has shifted from relying mostly on arms, to economic and political clout. The countries might have had peaceful relations before in considerably quieter, and more equitable, conditions than today's acute clash of interests.

If nuclear talks break down, Iran's regime may become more aggressive.

Beyond this, the Abraham Accord or reconciliation of Arab states and Israel has been possible thanks to the green light that the Saudis gave their regional partners, and it is a considerable political and ideological defeat for the Islamic Republic.

Assuming all Houthis follow Tehran's instructions — and they may not — improved ties may curb attacks on Saudi interests and aid its economy. Tehran will also benefit from no longer having to support them. Unlike Iran's regime, the Saudis are not pressed for cash or resources and could even offer the Houthis a better deal. Presently, they may consider it more convenient to keep the softer approach toward Tehran.

For if nuclear talks with the West break down, Iran's regime may become more aggressive, and as experience has shown, tensions often prompt a renewal of missile or drone attacks on the Saudis, on tankers and on foreign shipping. Riyadh must have a way of keeping the Tehran regime quiet, in a distinctly unquiet time.

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