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International Retrospective Sends Bourgeois Market to New Heights

The Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum’s full-career retrospective of Louise Bourgeois is further bolstering an already strong market.

NEW YORK—The Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum’s full-career retrospective of Louise Bourgeois is further bolstering an already strong market. The show, which runs at the Guggenheim in New York through Sept. 28, opened at London’s Tate Modern last October and ran through January, and then traveled to the Pompidou Center, Paris, where it ran from March through June. After the Guggenheim, the exhibition travels to the Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles, Oct. 26–Jan. 25, and then to the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, Washington, D.C., Feb. 26–May 17, 2009.

Meanwhile, Cheim & Read gallery in Manhattan is presenting an exhibition of seven recent bronze sculptures and four suites of gouache drawings through Nov. 1. “The retrospective has increased interest, but there has been such a demand for the work over the past few years,” says Adam Sheffer, a director of Cheim & Read, which has represented the artist since the 1990s.

The tall, narrow, anthropomorphic sculptures in the Cheim & Read show are priced at $1 million/1.5 million. The drawings, on the theme of motherhood, in series of eight to 20 works, are priced at $800,000/1.2 million. Some single “accent” drawings also included in the exhibition are priced at $100,000 each. A number of these works have already been sold to private collectors, says Sheffer.

He noted that little of Bourgeois’s work is available, in part because there are a number of works that the artist owns but does not plan to sell, and in part because so much of her work sold over the years has found its way into public collections. “There is a great deal of interest in historical work,” Sheffer said, but few pieces available to buy. Sculptures from the 1940s, ’50s and ’60s start at $2 million/4 million, and single drawings from this era are priced at $200,000/300,000 and up.

Bourgeois, 96, was born in France and studied at the Ecole des Beaux-Arts and with Cubist painter Fernand Léger before emigrating to the United States in 1938. Her work has been exhibited at museums all over the world.

“She has a very strong international following,” Sheffer said. At public sales, demand and prices for Bourgeois’s work have both been strong: the top auction price to date is $4.6 million, paid at a Christie’s sale in Paris last May for her 2003 stainless steel and tapestry sculpture Spider (estimate: $2.8 million/3.9 million). Another Spider sculpture, conceived in 1997 and cast in bronze in 1999, sold in 2006 at Christie’s New York for $4 million (estimate: $2.5 million/3.5 million); a 1998 bronze casting produced $3 million (estimate: $1.5 million/2 million) at Sotheby’s in 2005.

Two bronzes from the same edition, titled Quarantania, 1947–53, generated high prices in separate sales at Christie’s—$2.5 million (estimate: $1.2 million/1.8 million) this year and $1.9 million (estimate: $900,000/1.2 million) last year.

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