The mega-gallery Hauser & Wirth said it sold a 1996 steel version of Louise Bourgeois’s iconic Spider sculpture for $40 million at Art Basel during the Swiss fair’s first VIP day.
The $40 million paid for the nearly 11-foot-long work, which towers over Hauser & Wirth’s booth, is the biggest sum ever publicly reported for a Bourgeois work. The sculpture is from the collection of Ursula Hauser, mother of gallery co-founder Manuela Hauser, and was bought by a private collection. It is made of steel, and therefore, unlike bronze pieces by Bourgeois, cannot be placed outdoors.
Spider is among the most expensive works at this year’s edition of Art Basel, the fair where dealers often make some of their biggest sales.
Bourgeois’s auction record was set in 2019 when a bronze version of Spider—cast in 1997 and based on the steel version that sold at Art Basel—sold at Christie’s for $32 million. A related smaller work, Spider IV (cast 1997), sold in April at Sotheby’s Hong Kong for HK$129.2 million ($16.4 million), becoming the most expensive sculpture ever sold in Asia.
The Art Basel work’s sale is also significant, as prices by women artists still often lag behind their male contemporaries. By comparison, Andy Warhol’s Shot Sage Blue Marilyn (1964) became the most expensive 20th-century artwork to sell at auction when it sold last month at Christie’s New York to Larry Gagosian for $195 million. The three most expensive sculptures to ever sell at auction are all by Alberto Giacometti, each going for more than $100 million, with L’Homme au doigt (1947) selling at Christie’s New York in 2015 for $141.3 million.
At $40 million, Bourgeois’s Spider would fall squarely between the two most expensive works by women to ever sell at auction: Frida Kahlo’s 1949 Diego y yo for $34.9 million at Sotheby’s New York in 2021 and Georgia O’Keeffe’s 1932 Jimson Weed / White Flower No. 1 for $44.4 million at Sotheby’s New York in 2014.
Reflecting on the gallery’s upcoming 30th anniversary, Hauser & Wirth president Marc Payot said in a statement, “Our booth is a celebration of both where we’ve come from and where we’re headed: Louise Bourgeois’ magnificent 1996 sculpture ‘Spider’ – an icon of 20th-century art, which has now been placed in an extraordinary collection – anchors the stand and welcomes you to an oasis of masterworks.”
Sales at art fairs like Art Basel are self-reported by galleries, making them difficult to independently verify, and works are often pre-sold ahead of the fair’s preview days, which attract the world’s top collectors. (Hauser & Wirth declined to comment on when the work was sold.)
In 2021, Lévy Gorvy, which has since merged to become LGDR, reported that it sold a monumental painting by Joan Mitchell, 12 Hawks at 3 O’Clock (ca. 1962), for a price around $20 million to a private collector at Art Basel Hong Kong. Earlier this year, Artnet News reported that the work had in fact been sold a month prior to the fair, and that it didn’t sell for the price the gallery had originally claimed.
Additional reporting by Sarah Douglas.