Artist Louise Bourgeois’ massive bronze work ‘Spider’ has set a record as the most valuable sculpture ever sold at auction by a female artist, fetching $32.8 million at Sotheby’s in New York City on Thursday.
The 10-foot arachnid was the centerpiece of the night’s contemporary art auction and set a price record for Bourgeois’ works, beating the $32.1 million another ‘Spider’ netted at a 2019 Christie’s auction.
Sotheby’s made a point of reporting that works by female artists made up $50.4 million of the $204.7 million realized at both the contemporary sale and an ultra-contemporary auction taking place the same night.
‘Spider’ was previously owned by Fundacao Itau, a foundation set up by Itau Unibanco, and loaned out to the Sao Paulo Museum of Modern Art, which exhibited it at museums throughout Brazil. It was initially purchased by Itau Unibanco founder Olavo Setubal for just $450,000 after it was unveiled at the 23rd Biennial de Sao Paulo in 1996.
The foundation reportedly sold the sculpture to finance education, health and culture programs at Itau Cultural, a nonprofit it oversees.
Other editions of ‘Spider’ are held by the National Gallery of Art in Washington DC and the Kemper Museum of Contemporary Art in Kansas City. Hauser & Wirth gallery reportedly sold another ‘Spider’ last year at Art Basel for an undisclosed sum.
Bourgeois, who didn’t begin making her iconic spider sculptures until she was in her 80s, claimed she was drawn to the creature because it reminded her of her mother, and indeed one of her most famous sculptures is the hulking bronze ‘Maman’ – French for ‘mother’ – a 30-foot spider holding an egg sac full of white marble eggs. She continued making art until her death in 2010 at age 98.
Painter Georgia O’Keeffe’s ‘Jimson Weed/White Flower No.1’ remains the highest-priced work by a female artist, having fetched $44.4 million in a 2014 auction at Sotheby’s.
Last year, an Andy Warhol print of actress Marilyn Monroe became the most expensive piece of American art ever sold at public auction, netting $195 million at a Christie’s sale. The identity of the purchaser was not made public.