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Could Louise Bourgeois’s ‘Spider’ Topple the Auction Record for Work by a Female Artist?

Louise Bourgeois, Spider, 1997.COURTESY CHIRSTIE'S

Louise Bourgeois, Spider, 1997.


Though Christie’s elected not to publicly list the estimated sale price for Louise Bourgeois’s Spider (1997), which will be auctioned as lot 10 in the house’s postwar and contemporary evening sale on November 10 in New York, it is high enough to break some major records.

ARTnews has learned that the enormous sculpture will have a low estimate of $25 million and a high estimate of $35 million, positioning it to easily eclipse the record for the most expensive work by a postwar female artist, and opening the possibility that it could beat the all-time mark for a female artist that was set by Georgia O’Keeffe’s Jimson Weed/White Flower No. 1 (1932) at Sotheby’s last year. That work sold for $44.4 million.

“There have been multiple people wanting to spend between 25-35 m. for a Spider,” Brett Gorvy, the international head of postwar contemporary at Christie’s, said in an email (emphasis his). “And the market has totally changed since [Bourgeois] passed away.”

The bronze Spider is from an edition of six—each one a gigantic, architecturally minded work that reaches nearly 25 feet across—that Bourgeois conceived in 1996 and cast in 1997, and is an extension of the artist’s arachno-centric interests, but is on a much larger scale than most of her pieces on the subject. (This work also has one artist’s proof, one unique bronze variant, which is in the collection of the National Gallery, in Washington, D.C., and one unique sculpture in steel.)

Another reason for such a high price: other casts in the series have been placed in institutions or top-grade collections, and it’s not likely they will come up again for sale anytime soon.

“I don’t think it’s competing with anything else,” Howard Read, cofounder of Cheim & Read, the gallery that represented Bourgeois before her death in 2010, said in a phone interview. “In general, it’s not really a price situation—whether it’s $30,000 or $30 million, it doesn’t really matter to these collectors [who purchased the works in the series]. They will stay in these particular collections or be given to institutions. It’s been 20 years and they’ve mostly stayed where they are.”

The estimate indicates a radical shift in prices for the artist’s monumental work: the last time a major Bourgeois Spider came up at auction, at Christie’s in November 2011, the estimate ranged from $4 million to $6 million. That work, which was from a different edition and just a bit smaller, sold for $10.7 million.

Regardless of whether or not it beats O’Keeffe’s all-time high for a female artist—in case you forgot, the record for a male artist at auction, or any artist for that matter, was set last spring when a 1955 Picasso painting sold at Christie’s for $179.4 millionSpider seems set to break the auction record for a postwar work by a female artist, which was established when a Joan Mitchell sold at Christie’s in May of 2014 for $11.9 million.

Read, however, hastened to add that it’s hard to tell if such a high estimate is accurate.

“I think it’s ambitious on their part,” he said. “There is no precedent at that price level—certainly not in a public sale. But there are no other examples of this work on the primary or secondary market, and Christie’s thought they could run with that.”

Skepticism about the high estimate aside, the lot is guaranteed, and Gorvy’s optimism points to overall confidence within Christie’s.

Head to Rockefeller Center on November 10 to see how it fares.

UPDATE 10/21/2015, 9:45 p.m.: This post has been updated to include information about the size of the edition for the Spider work that is currently on offer, and clarified that the piece sold in 2011 was from a different edition.

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