French artist Louise Bourgeois’ ground-breaking Spider sculpture smashes Asian record with US$16.4m sale

Sotheby’s Hong Kong’s Contemporary Evening Auction produced scintillating results. The most expensive lot was French artist, Louise Bourgeois’ two-metre Spider IV sculpture. Fetching HK$129.2 million (around US$16.4 million) dollars with buyer’s premium, it also broke the Asian auction record for sculptures. 

Amongst 52 lots offered, 51 were sold – which attained a 98 per cent sale rate and a sale total of HK$746 million (around US$95.1 million) dollars. The total hammer price – excluding buyer’s premium – was within the total estimate of HK$560.9 and 801.3 million dollars. Overall, the sale result was favourable.

Basquiat's painting, Water-Worshipper, was surprisingly unsold. Works by the most expensive American artist are highly sought after by Asian collectors, and repeatedly fetched HK$100 million (around US$12.7 million) dollars at auctions.

Lot 1116 | Louise Bourgeois | Spider IV, Bronze

Created in 1997
203.2 x 180.3 x 53.3 cm

  • The Artist
  • Galerie Piece Unique, Paris
  • Private Collection, Paris
  • Sotheby's, New York, 16 November 2017, Lot 34
  • Acquired from the above sale by the present owner

Estimate: HK$120,000,000 – 150,000,000
Hammer Price: HK$110,000,000
Sold: HK$129,205,000 (around US$16.4 million)

The bidding started at HK$85 million dollars. After five bids, the hammer was dropped at HK$110 million dollars. 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. In the end, it fetched HK$129.2 million (around US$16.4 million) dollars.

In 2017, this present sculpture fetched US$14.6 million dollars at Sotheby’s New York. In 5 years, the sculpture’s value increased by around US$2 million dollars.

This time, Spider IV broke the Asian auction record for sculptures. The previous record was also held by Bourgeois, whose bronze sculpture, Quarantania, sold for HK$67 million (around US$8.5 million) dollars at Seoul Auctions Hong Kong in 2018.

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

Tom Eddison with the winning bid 

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.

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

Created in 1997, this present sculpture is one of six editions of Spider IVIn 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' Maman is kept at Tate Modern in London 

Another Maman sculpture is also kept at the National Gallery of Canada in Ottawa

Bourgeois' Spider fetched a then record-breaking US$32 milion dollars | Christie's New York, 2019 

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…”

Bourgeois pictured with the steel version of Spider IV, 1996

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

Lot 1112 | Yoshitomo Nara │ Oddly Cozy, Acrylic on canvas

Created in 2013
194 x 162 cm

  • Pace Gallery, New York
  • Acquired from the above by the present owner

Estimate: HK$80,000,000 – 120,000,000
Hammer Price: HK$95,000,000
Sold: HK$111,970,000 (around US$14.2 million)

Alex Branczik with the winning bid

The bidding started at HK$68 million dollars. After nearly 10 bids, the hammer was dropped at HK$95 million dollars. The winning bid was by Alex Branczik, Chairman of Modern and Contemporary Art Department, Asia; for his client with paddle number 369. In the end, it garnered HK$111.9 million (around US$14.2 million) dollars. It became the fourth most expensive painting by Yoshitomo Nara:

  1. Knife Behind Back (2000) | Sotheby's Hong Kong, 2019Sold: HK$195,696,000 (around US$25 million)
  2. Missing in Action (2000) | Phillips, Poly (Hong Kong and Beijing joint auction), 2021 | Sold: HK$123,725,000 (around US$15.9 million)
  3. Nice to See You Again (1996) | Sotheby's New York, 2021 | Sold: US$15,430,800
  4. Oddly Cozy (2013) | Sotheby’s Hong Kong, 2022 | Sold: HK$111,970,000 (around US$14.2 million)

Knife Behind Back (2000) was sold for a record-breaking US$25 million dollars in 2019

Yoshitomo Nara is a Japanese artist best known for his paintings of a young girl with piercing eyes. His artwork, Knife Behind Back (2000), was sold for HK$195.6 million (around US$25.1 million) dollars in October 2019. It made Nara the most expensive Japanese artist.

A contemporary of Takashi Murakami (founder of the Superflat manga/anime Japanese art movement), Nara was influenced by popular culture in both Eastern and Western society. His versatile practice explores themes of isolation, rebellion, and spirituality through printmaking, painting, sculpture, ceramics and installations.

Missing in Action (2000) 

Nice to See You Again (1996)

In 2011, a strong earthquake struck eastern Japan. Nara's birthplace was within the affected area, and Tochigi Prefecture, where he lived at the time, was 100 kilometres away from the Fukushima nuclear power plant. Devastated by the natural disasters, Nara was unable to paint and made him reflect on the meaning of creation. After a few months, he picked up his brush again with a new attitude and used his paintings in the hope of Japan's recovery.

Created in 2013, Nara experimented with new colours, hues and layering in Oddly Cozy – carefully creating shimmering translucencies on the canvas. The protagonist stands still against a bright and soft yellow-green background – her eyes glimmering with colours. She lost her naughty and stubborn sides in her early years, and instead her image became softer.

Yoshitomo Nara

Lot 1126 | Banksy │ Love is in the Air, Stencil spray paint and oil on canvas

Created in 2006
91.4 x 91.4 cm

  • Lazarides Ltd, London
  • Acquired from the above by the present owner in 2006

Estimate: HK$40,000,000 – 60,000,000
Hammer Price: HK$42,000,000
Sold: HK$51,073,000 (around US$6.5 million)

Tom Eddison with the winning bid

The auctioneer started the bidding at HK$30 million dollars. After more than five bids, the hammer was dropped at HK$42 million dollars. The winning bid was by Tom Eddison, Specialist of Contemporary Art Department, London; for his client with paddle number 297. In the end, it realised HK$51 million (around US$6.5 million) dollars.

Quintessentially Banksy, Love is in the Air is also known as Flower Thrower. First appearing in 2003 on the West Bank Wall in Bethlehem, the artwork stretches for more than 700 kilometres between Palestine and Israel.

Banksy’s subject adopts the archetypal pose of civic unrest – ready to hurl a projectile towards an unseen foe. But the British street artist replaced the object with a bunch of flowers – disarming the image as a call for change and advocacy of peace. The bunch of flowers in this present lot is hand-painted as an even more tender counterpoint to the crispness of the stark figure. The flowers also combine the colours of the Israeli and Palestinian flags to symbolise a more peaceful future in reach.

Love is in the Air first appeared as a stencilled graffiti in Bethlehem, Jerusalem 

Lot 1124 | Jean-Michel Basquiat │ Water-Worshipper, Acrylic, oilstick, silkscreen ink and metal on panel

Created in 1984
209.6 x 274 x 10.2 cm
Provenance (Amended by The Value):

  • Mary Boone Gallery, New York
  • Christie's New York, 4 May 1988, Lot 247 (Sold: US$35,200)
  • Galerie Beaubourg, Paris
  • Private Collection, France
  • Sotheby's Paris, 7 December 2010, Lot 9 (Sold: €2,400,000)
  • Private Collection
  • Sotheby's London, 12 February 2014, Lot 36 (£2,490,500)
  • Acquired by the present owner from the above sale
  • Sotheby's Hong Kong, 2 April 2017, Lot 1042 (Sold: HK$42,287,500)
  • Acquired by the present owner from the above sale

Estimate: HK$62,000,000 – 93,000,000

Other highlight lots:

During this auction, there was enthusiastic bidding for Asian Contemporary Art – especially for works by Japanese artists – Yoshitomo Nara, Yayoi Kusama and Takashi Murakami. Among the top 10 sales, 7 were from Asian artists – all of which sold for more than US$2.5 million dollars: 

Lot 1134 | Takashi Murakami | 69 Arhats Beneath the Bodhi Tree, Acrylic, gold and platinum leaf on canvas mounted on board, in 10 parts

Created in 2013
Each: 300 x 100 cm | Overall: 300 x 1000 cm

  • Private Collection

Estimate: HK$23,000,000 – 30,000,000
Hammer Price: HK$31,500,000
Sold: HK$38,490,000 (around US$4.8 million)

Lot 1122 | Gerhard Richter | Abstraktes Bild, Oil on Alu Dibond

Created in 1997
100 x 90 cm

  • Anthony d'Offay Gallery, London
  • Galeria Mário Sequeira, Braga
  • Private Collection, Europe
  • Sotheby's, London, 28 June 2010, Lot 7
  • Acquired from the above sale by the present owner

Estimate: HK$35,000,000 – 45,000,000
Hammer Price: HK$30,000,000
Sold: HK$36,675,000 (around US$4.6 million)

Lot 1111 | Yayoi Kusama | Pumpkin, Acrylic on canvas

Created in 1990
72.5 x 60.5 cm

  • Gallery Te, Tokyo
  • Acquired from the above by the present owner

Estimate: HK$8,000,000 – 15,000,000
Hammer Price: HK$25,000,000
Sold: HK$30,625,000 (around US$3.9 million)

Lot 1131 | Yoshitomo Nara | Angry Blue Boy, Acrylic on cotton mounted on canvas

Created in 2008
198 x 193 cm

  • Galerie Meyer Kamer, Vienna
  • Christie's, Hong Kong, 28 May 2011, Lot 1042
  • Private Collection
  • Christie's, Hong Kong, 23 November 2019, Lot 57
  • Acquired from the above sale by the present owner

Estimate: HK$20,000,000 – 30,000,000
Hammer Price: HK$23,000,000
Sold: HK$28,205,000 (around US$3.5 million)

Lot 1114 | Zeng Fanzhi | Mask Series 1999 No. 2, Oil on canvas

Created in 1999
150 by 180 cm

  • Private Collection (acquired directly from the artist)
  • Acquired from the above by the present owner

Estimate: HK$18,000,000 – 28,000,000
Hammer Price: HK$21,000,000
Sold: HK$25,785,000 (around US$3.2 million)

Lot 1118 | Yoshitomo Nara | Only Faces Appear in My Mind, Acrylic and coloured pencil on paper

Created in 2000
201.5 x 203.5 cm

  • Tomio Koyama Gallery, Tokyo
  • Acquired from the above by the present owner

Estimate: HK$20,000,000 – 30,000,000
Hammer Price: HK$20,000,000
Sold: HK$24,575,000 (around US$3.1 million)

Lot 1115 | Liu Ye | Night, Acrylic on canvas

Created in 2005
220 by 180 cm

  • Sperone Westwater Gallery, New York
  • Private Collection
  • Christie's, Hong Kong, 27 November 2011, Lot 1416
  • Private Collection
  • Acquired from the above by the present owner

Estimate: HK$15,000,000 – 25,000,000
Hammer Price: HK$19,500,000
Sold: HK$23,970,000 (around US$3 million)

New artist auction records

Lot 1103 | Louise Bonnet | The Ice Skater, Oil on canvas

Created in 2016
132 x 127 cm

  • Nino Mier Gallery, Los Angeles
  • Acquired from the above by the present owner

Estimate: HK$250,000 – 450,000
Hammer Price: HK$4,500,000
Sold: HK$5,670,000 (around US$720,000)

Lot 1127 | Robert Alice | Block 34 (51.895167° N, 1.4805° E) from Portraits of a Mind; NFT, accompanied with 24k gold leaf, suspended pigment, graphite, aluminum paint on canvas laid down on panel

Minted in: April 2022
This NFT is 1-of-1, a unique 34 second looping video at 4k, and the panel is executed in 2019-2022
Mint address: 0xc8dfa79fe6818ce3dbe2221179e1fba728b4cf2b/35
Diameter: 128.5 cm

  • The Artist

Estimate: HK$4,000,000 – 6,000,000
Hammer Price: HK$4,000,000
Sold: HK$5,040,000 (around US$640,000)

Lot 1138 | Tomokazu Matsuyama | Something Came Together, Acrylic and mixed media on canvas

Created in 2018
266.5 x 189 cm

  • Private Collection, Asia

Estimate: HK$600,000 – 800,000
Hammer Price: HK$4,000,000
Sold: HK$5,040,000 (around US$640,000)

Lot 1147 | Atsushi Kaga | We are all Spiritually Connected to Each Other (with DHL type), Acrylic on canvas

Created in 2020
150 x 120 cm

  • Maho Kubota Gallery, Tokyo
  • Acquired from the above by the present owner

Estimate: HK$400,000 – 600,000
Hammer Price: HK$1,900,000  
Sold: HK$2,394,000 (around US$310,000)

Lot 1149 | Chris Huen Sin Kam | Shek O, Oil on canvas, in 5 parts

Created in 2016
Each: 240 x 100 cm | Overall: 240 x 500 cm

  • Acquired directly from the artist by the present owner

Estimate: HK$1,200,000 – 2,500,000
Hammer Price: HK$1,500,000
Sold: HK$1,890,000 (around US$240,000)

Lot 1148 | Peter McDonald | How it is, Acrylic gouache on canvas

Created in 2013
140 x 200 cm

  • Kate MacGarry, London
  • Acquired from the above by the present owner

Estimate: HK$300,000 – 500,000
Hammer Price: HK$1,200,000
Sold: HK$1,512,000 (around US$190,000)

Auction Details:

Auction House: Sotheby’s Hong Kong
Sale: Contemporary Evening Auction
Date: 27 April 2022
Number of lots: 52
Sold: 51
Unsold: 1
Sale Rate: 98%
Sale Total: HK$746,357,000 (around US$95.1 million)