Carolina welcomes Bourgeois sculptures to campus

Two prominent sculptures from one of the most influential artists of the 20th century come to Carolina in an effort to bring the arts to all.

Crouching Spider sculpture on the UNC-Chapel Hill campus.

Two sculptures by notable French-American artist Louise Bourgeois are coming to the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill on loan this fall. The world-renowned work, which will be displayed on campus along East Cameron Avenue, will support a University-wide initiative to integrate the arts into campus life.

Bourgeois (1911–2010) is widely considered one of the most influential female artists of the 20th century. Her body of work, produced over more than 70 years, explores themes of alimentation, identity and sexuality. The installations coming to Carolina include one of Bourgeois’ most provocative and important works, a nine-foot-tall and 27-foot-wide bronze and stainless steel sculpture called Crouching Spider.

Bourgeois created Crouching Spideras a tribute to her mother, who died in 1932, the year that Bourgeois entered the Sorbonne to study mathematics. The artist previously said her spider sculptures were an ode to her mother, who was a tapestry restorer. The sculpture, on loan from The Easton Foundation, will be on display for one year beginning Aug. 7.

Another of Bourgeois’ notable works, Eye Benches I,will be on display for two years in front of Phillips Hall, on loan from the Louise Bourgeois Trust. Eye Benches I, a pair of granite benches sculpted into the shape of eyes, is meant to symbolize the visual world Bourgeois inhabited. The nature of perception, of looking and being looked at, are themes that the artist explored over decades.

Chancellor Carol L. Folt said the installations are one example of how the University is bringing the arts into public spaces for the community to experience and enjoy.

“It is an incredible privilege to have the work of Louise Bourgeois – one of the most influential female artists of the 20th century – here at Carolina,” Folt said. “Her art continues to inspire new generations of artists and I know people will be drawn to these pieces as they become integral to our daily campus life.”

The arrival of the sculptures was organized by the University’s Arts Everywhere initiative, which works to integrate the arts into everyday life at Carolina. Arts Everywhere is driven by the idea that the arts are for everyone, and that they serve as a source of inspiration and knowledge.

Emil Kang, special assistant to the chancellor for the arts, said he hopes the sculptures inspire UNC-Chapel Hill faculty, staff, students and visitors alike.

“As an artist, Bourgeois did not shy away from tackling complicated subjects in a creative way,” he said. “Hosting her work on Carolina’s campus is an opportunity for us to be inspired by Bourgeois’ creativity and ingenuity. My hope is that this work inspires creativity and ingenuity in our own lives.”

“This provides a great opportunity for the campus community to have exposure to sculpture by a prominent and important artist,” said Carol Magee, chair of the UNC Art and Art History Department. “We are excited to be partnering with Arts Everywhere as they develop curricular materials to support engagement with these works by various programs.”

Mimi Chapman, professor in the School of Social Work, said faculty can integrate the installations into their teaching, providing a new lens through which students can look at their academic interests.

“When I ask my social work masters students to work with art, it is because art calls into question our assumptions,” she said. “Take Crouching Spider.When most of us learn that a sculpture with that title is a tribute to the sculptor’s mother, our assumptions go wild, largely because we have cultural associations with spiders that are negative. Working with art helps my students, and helps me, notice how much we assume and how much we get wrong when we do.”

The sculptures come to Carolina with the generous support and leadership of alumnus James Keith (JK) Brown, current chair of the Carolina Arts Leadership Council and former chair of the Ackland Art Museum National Advisory Board.

“I’m honored to help bring important works by an artist of Louise Bourgeois’ stature to Carolina,” Brown said. “Having Crouching Spider and Eye Benches I on loan provides an extraordinary opportunity for students who have an interest in the arts—regardless of their field of study—to have a profoundly personal experience over time with Bourgeois’ artistic vision.”