A crowd gathered as the men tackled the creature, ripping off its legs one limb at a time. While the creature did not shriek with pain, its anguish was apparent in the expressions of those watching its destruction. Soon only a barbaric torso remained, with its legs broken apart and stacked neatly in a pile.
The beloved “Crouching Spider” sculpture no longer resides on the San Francisco Embarcadero.
“Crouching Spider,” a notable piece in artist Louise Bourgeois’ “Spider” series, stood at the entrance of the Embarcadero at Pier 14 for the last 17 months. On leave from the artist’s galleries, Gallery Paule Anglim in San Francisco and Cheim & Read in New York, the sculpture was dismantled in order to be transported to its new home at a private collection in Houston, Texas.
Bourgeois’ inspired work was one of her best, said Jill Manton, director of the San Francisco Arts Commission.
“The city was just so privileged to be able to publicly display artwork from someone of her caliber,” Manton said. “Especially something that became so beloved.”
Bourgeois, 97, moved in 1938 from Paris to New York, where her career as an artist began. Her work has been shown at renowned galleries and museums such as the Guggenheim in New York City, the Centre Georges Pompidou in Paris, the Hirshorn Museum and Sculpture Garden in Washington, D.C. and the Museum of Contemporary Art in Los Angeles.
Bourgeois’ “Crouching Spider” was an artwork close to her heart. It was modeled after the spirit of her mother, said Kate Patterson, project manager of the San Francisco Arts Commission. Bourgeois’ mother, a tapestry weaver, showed the same work ethic as a protective mother spider, spinning her own home and protecting her brood of children.
“The immense scale of the spider sculptures corresponds to the monumental importance of the artist’s mother to her daughter,” Patterson said in a press release.
“Crouching Spider” was only supposed to be on lease to the city for eight months starting in November 2007, but its stay was extended for another nine months due to overwhelming “Everyone knows about this sculpture,” Manton said. “There are not that many artworks that have this impact. I’ve heard people speaking as they pass the dismantling as if the spider was part of their lives. They’re very protective.”
As each leg left the spider and made its way into the waiting moving van, passersby on the street paused to watch, murmuring to each other about the sculpture that once stood at the plaza entry. Some, like Janet Schuer, waited and watched all day, documenting the dismantling with their cameras.
“I’m just one of the many coming by. We’re all sorry to see it going. People of all ages enjoyed this spider and that’s what makes this so different,” Schuer said. “It’s not just museumgoers admiring it. I’m a fan of Louise’s work and I just hope they can replace the sculpture with something as good.”
Currently, there are no plans for what to replace the sculpture with, but Manton said that the Arts Commission is working on gathering funding and acquiring new works to place on public display.
Another woman in the crowd, Nancy LaBash, expressed her sorrow over the absence of the sculpture.
“It was so absolutely alive,” LaBash said. “You [expected] the spider to come walking toward you, and now I will sincerely miss it.”