A $40 Million Spider Sculpture by Louise Bourgeois Is the Priciest Sale Reported During Art Basel’s Bustling VIP Preview

The preview drew top collectors including Leon Black, Uli Sigg, and Richard Chang.

Installation view, Hauser & Wirth at Art Basel 2022, featuring Louise Bourgeois, Spider (1996). © the artists / estates. Courtesy the artists / estates and Hauser & Wirth. Photo: Jon Etter.

A giant steel spider by Louise Bourgeois sold for a price listed at $40 million at Art Basel in Switzerland on Tuesday, the highest known price for the late artist. 

The 10.6-foot-tall sculpture, Spider (1996), towered over Hauser & Wirth’s booth during the VIP opening hours of the key international trade show for modern and contemporary art.

A gallery representative confirmed the sale price. Its president, Marc Payot, said the work was sold to a European client and that the sale was arranged in advance of the fair. The work was previously shown at the opening of Hauser & Wirth’s Monaco space last year, and in London in 2016. 

The $40 million number was the highest to come out of the buzzy VIP preview, which drew top collectors including Leon Black, Uli Sigg, and Richard Chang. Works by popular younger artists were flying off the walls, according to advisors. 

Although prices reported at art fairs can sometimes be inflated, a figure in the region of the $40 million provided would make the sculpture among the highest known prices paid for a work by a female artist. The top auction result for a work by a woman is $44.4 million for Jimson Weed / White Flower No. 1 by Georgia O’Keeffe, which sold at Sotheby’s in 2014. 

Bourgeois’s auction record is $32 million, set for a spider at Christie’s in 2019. Like the one on Hauser & Wirth’s stand, it dates to 1996. 

The transaction may give a needed boost to the market of the 20th and 21st century artist, whose auction sales plummeted during the pandemic. In the past decade, Bourgeois (1911–2010) has been among the most highly valued female artists at auction. But after peaking at $47 million in 2019, her auction sales fell by 70 percent, to $14.3 million, in 2021. 

The spiders are the most highly prized works by 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. Her bronze spiders, like the one at Christie’s, usually came in the edition of six.  

The series is seen as autobiographical, with spiders and their web-spinning associated with the artist’s mother, who died in 1932.

“With the spider, I try to put across the power and the personality of a modest animal,”  Bourgeois once said. “Modest as it is, it is very definite and it is indestructible. It is not about the animal itself, but my relation to it. It establishes the fact that the spider is my mother, believe it or not.”

Additional reporting by Naomi Rea.

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