A deep-pocketed collector with room to spare could snare one of the most famous contemporary sculptures in her or his web next month, when Louise Bourgeois’s famed Spider (1996) hits the auction block at Sotheby’s in New York. The work, ten feet tall and more than 18ft across, is expected to bring between $30m and $40m—meaning it is very likely to break at least one auction record, if not several.
If the work hammers at its low estimate, once fees are accounted for, it would likely become the artist’s most expensive work at auction and the most expensive sculpture by a female artist ever sold at auction, surpassing another Bourgeois Spider (1996) that sold for $28m ($32.1m with fees) at Christie’s in May 2019. If it sells at or above its high estimate, the present Spider could come within web-slinging distance of the record for any work by a female artist at auction, currently the $44.4m (with fees) that Walmart heiress Alice Walton paid for Georgia O’Keeffe’s painting Jimson Weed (1936) in 2014.
Spider is being offered by Fundação Itaú, the non-profit arm of Brazilian bank Itaú Unibanco. The sculpture was acquired by Olavo Setubal, a collector and co-founder of the bank, after it was the featured as the centrepiece of a special presentation of works by Bourgeois at the 1996 Biennial de São Paulo, for which the artist also designed a distinctive, spiralling logo. The sculpture was on loan to the São Paulo Museum of Modern Art from 1997 to 2017, and was subsequently displayed at various Brazilian institutions.
In the years since Spider’s acquisition, Fundação Itaú has shifted its collecting priorities to focus on works by artists based in Brazil. Proceeds from the sculpture’s sale will support those efforts.
Works from Bourgeois’s Spiders series are on prominent display at many of the world’s leading museums, including the Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao, the National Gallery of Canada in Ottawa, Dia:Beacon in New York and Tate Modern in London. “The Spider has become a global icon, recognisable by all given its prominent presence in cultural institutions around the world,” David Galperin, Sotheby’s head of contemporary art in New York said in a statement. “It is not only a paragon of modern sculpture, but has taken on a larger symbolic presence within contemporary culture internationally.”
The present Spider will go on display at Sotheby’s headquarters in New York on 6 May before being offered in the house’s marquee evening sale of contemporary art on 18 May. The same sale will feature a similarly austere large-scale work by Jean-Michel Basquiat, Now’s the Time (1985), which is exptected to bring more than $30m.