Best of 2022 | Louise Bourgeois’ Spider sculpture breaks Asian record at US$16.5m

After more than two years of pandemic lull, the auction industry is bouncing back from the crisis to pre-pandemic levels – if not better. In fact, 2022 has been a stellar auction year where numerous records were set. As we ring in the new year, let's look back on the "best of 2022" in the auction world.

During Sotheby's Hong Kong Spring Sale last year, French artist Louise Bourgeois’ two-metre Spider IV sculpture sold for HK$129.2 million (US$16.5 million) with buyer's premium, becoming the most valuable sculpture ever sold in Asia. 

Louise Bourgeois | Spider IV, Bronze (Asian auction record for sculptures)
Conceived in 1996 and casted in 1997;  number 2 from an edition of 6, plus 1 artist’s proof
203.2 x 180.3 x 53.3 cm
Auction House: Sotheby's Hong Kong
Auction Date: 27 April 2022
Estimate: HK$120,000,000 - 150,000,000
Sold: HK$129,205,000 (US$16.5 million)

The wall-mounted spider was executed in 1996 and is one of the six limited editions of Spider IV created by Bourgeois. Of these, one is owned by the Louise Bourgeois Foundation, another is in the collection of Museo Jumex in Mexico City, and the remaining four – including this work – are in private collections.

Images of the spider recur throughout Bourgeois’ work, constituting a prolonged series of drawings, sculptures, prints and installations. For Bourgeois, spiders are evocative, speaking of childhood and a narrative of home. Each represent a large creature hovering over a page, a wall, a ceiling a room, or above one of the artist’s architectural installations.

Louise Bourgeois' spider sculpture is a landmark Roppongi Hills in Tokyo

Bourgeois' Spider IV sculpture was hammered at HK$110 million

Tom Eddison with the winning bid

The bidding started at HK$85 million. After five bids, the hammer was dropped at HK$110 million. The winning bid was by Tom Eddison, Specialist of Contemporary Art Department, London; for his client with paddle number 363. This means it is likely that the buyer is from Europe.

Fresh to Asian market, the work achieved HK$129.2 million (US$16.5 million), setting an Asian auction record for sculpture. In 2017, this present sculpture fetched US$14.6 million dollars at Sotheby’s New York, meaning its value increased by around US$2 million in five years. 

The previous Asian auction record for sculptures was set by Bourgeois' bronze sculpture Quarantania, when it fetched HK$67 million (around US$8.5 million) at Seoul Auctions Hong Kong in 2018.

Bourgeois pictured with the steel version of Spider IV, 1996

Bourgeois' Spider fetched a then record-breaking US$32 milion | Christie's New York


At once poignant, powerful, menacing and nostalgic, Bourgeois' Spider IV assumes full command of its surroundings, its legs advancing, probing and coiling in repose, suggestive of both action and contemplation. Her spider sculptures are mostly collected by distinguished art institutions around the world, such as Tate Modern in London and National Gallery of Canada in Ottawa.

Created in 1997, this present sculpture is one of six editions of Spider IV. In fact, the Spider sculptures appeared at auction a few times, with five recorded sales in the past 10 years. The most recent one was in 2019, when the 3.2-metre Spider garnered US$32 million dollars at Christie's New York, setting an auction record for the French artist.

Bourgeois' Untitled from the artist's Ode to My Mother sketch series, 1995

During her childhood, the Bourgeois family lived comfortably in Paris and the countryside. But her parents’ martial relationship was tense. Her father’s infidelity with different mistresses – a situation reluctantly accepted by her mother – eventually died after a long battle with Spanish flu.

Through these emotional struggles in her early life, spiders first appeared in Bourgeois’ sketches as representations of a maternal, nurturing character. In 1955, she created a set of nine spider etchings, entitled Ode a Ma Mere (Poem to My Mother), and was later quoted in an article:

“The friend (the spider – why the spider?) because my best friend was my mother and she was deliberate, clever, patient, soothing, reasonable, dainty, subtle, indispensable, neat, and as useful as a spider. She could also defend herself, and me…”