A $40 million spider sculpture by Louise Bourgeois is the most expensive sale reported at Art Basel’s lively VIP preview
A giant steel spider by Louise Bourgeois sold for $40 million at Art Basel in Switzerland on Tuesday, the highest known price for the late artist.
The 25-foot tall sculpture, Spider (1996), dominated the Hauser & Wirth stand during the VIP opening hours of the leading international fair for modern and contemporary art.
A gallery representative confirmed the sale price, but declined to give details of the buyer and seller, except that both were private collectors. She did not answer the question of whether the work was pre-sold or sold at the fair and did not share the provenance. The work had already been presented during the opening of the Hauser & Wirth space in Monaco last year and in London in 2016.
The $40 million figure was the highest to emerge from the buzzing VIP preview, which attracted top collectors including Leon Black, Uli Sigg and Richard Chang. Works by popular young artists were flying from the walls, advisers said.
Although prices reported at art fairs can sometimes be inflated, a figure in the region of $40 million provided would make the sculpture one of the highest known prices paid for a work by a female artist. . The highest auction result for a work by a woman is $44.4 million for Jimson Weed / White Flower #1 by Georgia O’Keeffe, sold at Sotheby’s in 2014.
Bourgeois’ auction record is $32 million, set for a spider at Christie’s in 2019. Like the one on Hauser & Wirth’s stand, it dates from 1996.
The deal could provide a much-needed boost to the market for the 20th and 21st century artist, whose auctions have plummeted during the pandemic. Over the past decade, Bourgeois (1911-2010) has been among the most highly regarded female artists at auction. But after peaking at $47 million in 2019, its auction sales have fallen 70% to $14.3 million in 2021.
Spiders are the most popular works on the market, accounting for six of the top auction results, according to the Artnet price database. As was common for Bourgeois, the steel spider is a unique work. His bronze spiders, like the one at Christie’s, usually came in editions of six.
The series is considered autobiographical, with spiders and their web spinning associated with the artist’s mother, who died in 1932.
“With the spider, I try to convey the power and personality of a modest animal” Bourgeois once said. “As modest as it is, it is very precise and indestructible. It’s not about the animal itself, but about my relationship with it. It establishes the fact that the spider is my mother, believe it or not.
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