Opening 22 September 2023 at the Foundling Museum in London
This fall, the Foundling Museum will present the exhibition ‘The Mother & The Weaver: Art from the Ursula Hauser Collection,’ from 22 September 2023 through 18 February 2024. The London museum houses the collections of the Foundling Hospital, established in 1739 as a home for children at risk of abandonment. ‘The Mother & The Weaver’ takes the unseen mother, a central part of the Foundling Museum’s story, as a point of departure to explore complex ideas around motherhood, childhood, love, loss, sexuality and identity. Occupying the whole museum, this landmark exhibition will bring together over 40 works of art by 17 artists, all women, that are largely selected from the Ursula Hauser Collection, and places them in dialogue with historical objects from the Foundling Museum.
The exhibition, curated by Hauser & Wirth's Senior Curatorial Director Tanya Barson, will present modern and contemporary works of art in a variety of media, including painting, textiles, sculpture, video and works on paper, by internationally celebrated artists Rita Ackermann, Ida Applebroog, Louise Bourgeois, Berlinde de Bruyckere, Marlene Dumas, Sonia Gomes, Sheila Hicks, Luchita Hurtado, Nicola L, Maria Lassnig, Anna Maria Maiolino, Carol Rama, Pipilotti Rist, Amy Sherald, Lorna Simpson, Sylvia Sleigh and Alina Szapocznikow.
‘The Spider is an ode to my mother. She was my best friend. Like a spider, my mother was a weaver.’ —Louise Bourgeois, 2001
The title, The Mother & The Weaver, evokes Louise Bourgeois’ most well known image: the spider, depicted primarily in a series of works that the artist began in her eighties. Spider V, 1999, a bronze sculpture from this series, will be displayed as part of the exhibition. For Bourgeois, the spider symbolised her mother, who managed the family’s tapestry restoration business and who died when Bourgeois was twenty. At once predatory and protective, the spider is an ambivalent figure. In response to her own question ‘why a spider,’ Bourgeois stated ‘my best friend was my mother and she was deliberate, clever, patient, soothing… indispensable, neat and useful as a spider.’ [text from Bourgeois, Ode à ma mère, 1995]
As well as referencing Bourgeois, the twin concepts of the ‘mother’ and ‘weaver’ in the exhibition’s title also consider the ways in which artists have grappled with the tensions between public creativity and private identity. Many of the artists in the show explore these tensions through the lens of expectations around what it means to be a ‘good’ mother or woman, from Carol Rama’s ‘Seduzioni’ (1984) to Rita Ackermann’s ‘Mama, I love you’ (2010). These themes and ideas take on new meanings in the context of the Foundling Museum. With no other sources of support available, women facing desperate poverty or the stigma of illegitimacy left their children in the Foundling Hospital’s care. The act of leaving a child in this way was both a source of deep grief for child and parent, and an act of love and hope through which women tried to secure their child’s future.
Maternal presence or absence, and the complex emotions that each arouses, informs many of the works in the exhibition. Some works explore the overwhelming experience of becoming a mother, such as Luchita Hurtado’s acrylic painting ‘Birth’ (2019) an image of childbirth viewed from the mother’s perspective as the baby crowns. Others are more suggestive, hinting at complex histories of displacement and fractured identity. The artist Sonia Gomes, for example, was moved as a child from her Black maternal grandmother’s home to her white father’s family home. Working primarily with discarded textiles, Gomes evokes the memories we attach to such fragments in her sculptures, which form a dialogue with the works of Bourgeois as well as the fragments of textiles left as identifying ‘tokens’ by mothers leaving their children in the Foundling Hospital’s care.
Other pieces take on new significance in the context of the Museum. Amy Sherald’s ‘Hope is the thing with feathers (The little bird)’ (2021) offers quiet tribute to the dignity and power of the individual, themes also explored in the Museum’s series of contemporary portraits of former Foundling Hospital pupils. A dramatic rehang of the Museum’s Picture Gallery positions self-portraits by Maria Lassnig and Sylvia Sleigh in the context of a room dominated by images of men. Their creative agency is positioned in counterpoint to the eighteenth-century male artists who supported the establishment of the Foundling Hospital.
The Foundling Museum tells the story of the Foundling Hospital, founded in 1739 as a home for children whose mothers couldn’t keep or care for them. It was the UK’s first children’s charity, now named Coram, and the first public art gallery, works from which are now displayed at the Foundling Museum. Learn more about the museum.