At the time of her death on May 31, Louise Bourgeois was the 16th most valuable living artist based on the combined auction value of her works. Among the 5,000 most valuable works of art ever sold at auction, Bourgeois had nine works. It is often the case with important artists that the market value of their artistic legacies grow consistently after their deaths, because of the sudden jolt of interest and the sudden cessation of the artist’s output.
Although the auction houses have yet to publish their fall catalogues, we will watch closely to determine whether the market for Louise Bourgeois’ works steps up during the 2010–2011 season. The fact that more than one gallery at Art Basel exhibited Bourgeois’ works last week—including Xavier Hufkens, Hauser & Wirth Zürich, Carolina Nitsch and Peter Blum Gallery—already gives us grounds to speculate that the upcoming fall auction season may be particularly active for her works.
Louise Bourgeois’ most expensive work is Spider (2003), which was sold at Christie’s Paris on May 27, 2008, for €2,888,250 ($4,554,193)—just before the market for contemporary art began to cool. Spider sold for nearly two-and-a-half times the price brought by that auction’s second most expensive painting. Five of Bourgeois’ top ten most expensive artworks were sold that year, with the rest having sold during the run of the bull market for contemporary art from 2005–2007. During those years, the market expressed the view that Bourgeois would fast join the pantheon of the world’s most valuable artists. Her recent death at a period when contemporary art could very well begin to recover will prove to be a good test of how accurate that expectation was. LEFT: SPIDER, 2003. PHOTO BY CHRISTOPHER BURKE