Louise Bourgeois’ US$30m Spider sculpture set to break records at Sotheby’s New York

During Sotheby's Hong Kong Spring Sale last year, French artist Louise Bourgeois’ 2-metre Spider IV sculpture sold for HK$129.2 million (US$16.5 million), making it the most valuable sculpture ever sold in Asia.

This year, Bourgeois’ gigantic 3.3-metre Spider sculpture will hit the auction block at Sotheby’s New York on 18 May. The work is expected to fetch between US$30 million and 40 million – potentially breaking Bourgeois’ auction record and taking the throne as the most expensive sculpture by a female artist ever sold.

Lot 105 | Louise Bourgeois | Spider, Bronze
Conceived and casted in 1996; number 1 from an edition of 6, plus 1 artist’s proof
337.8 x 668 x 632.5 cm

  • Acquired directly from the artist

Estimate: US$30,000,000 – 40,000,000

Auction House: Sotheby's New York
Sale: Contemporary Evening Auction
Auction Date: 18 May 2023
Number of Lots: 32

The French artist’s spiders have become a global icon, recognizable by all given its prominent presence in leading cultural institutions and major landmarks, including Tate Modern in London, the National Gallery of Canada in Ottawa, Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao and Roppongi Hills in Tokyo.

While many may find the monumental spider sculptures spine-chilling, Bourgeois likens these arachnids to her mother. During her childhood, the Bourgeois family lived comfortably in Paris and the countryside but her parents’ marital relationship was tense. As a child, she was aware of her father’s infidelity with her governess – a situation reluctantly accepted by her mother who eventually died after a long battle with Spanish flu.

Bourgeois’ Spider IV broke Asian record at HK$129.2 million | Sotheby's Hong Kong, 2022

Bourgeois pictured with the steel version of Spider IV, 1996

Bourgeois’ spider sculpture has become a landmark in Roppongi Hills in Tokyo

Bourgeois’ Maman is kept at Tate Modern in London

Bourgeois’ Untitled from the artist’s Ode a Ma Mere sketch series, 1995

These emotional struggles in Bourgeois’ early life had a profound impact on her creation. For her, spiders are evocative, speaking of childhood and a narrative of home, and they first appeared in her sketches as representations of a maternal, nurturing character. In 1995, 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’ 3.2-metre Spider fetched a then record-breaking US$32 million | Christie’s New York, 2019

Though the Spider series has become Bourgeois’ most well-known motif and been exhibited around the globe, these sculptures have only appeared at auction a few times, with six recorded sales in the past 10 years.

In 2019, the 3.2-metre Spider garnered US$32 million at Christie's New York, setting an auction record for Bourgeois. And the Spider sculpture to go under the hammer this time, valued at US$30 million to 40 million, is poised to set a new auction record for the French artist.

Bourgeois’ Spider remained on permanent display at the São Paulo Museum of Modern Art over the past quarter-century

Bourgeois’ Spider was a major highlight at the 23rd Bienal de São Paulo in 1996

Conceived and casted in 1996, this lot is one of the six limited editions of Spider, with one artist’s proof, created by Bourgeois. Shortly following its execution that same year, the work featured in a salon dedicated to the French artist in the 23rd Bienal de São Paulo and was acquired by the Itaú Cultural Institute.

Since then, the bronze sculpture remained on permanent display at the São Paulo Museum of Modern Art and has been loaned and exhibited extensively across esteemed institutions in South America for more than two decades.

Collectors with room to spare could take the opportunity to bring this prestigious museum collection home at the coming auction and proceeds of this lot will go to Fundação Itaú.