Iconic Louise Bourgeois 'Spider' sculpture fetches record $32.8M at auction

A woman looks at Louise Bourgeoiss "Spider" during a Christies New York press preview on May 3, 2019, as part of Christies Post-War and Contemporary Art evening sale in New York. (Photo by TIMOTHY A. CLARY/AFP via Getty Images)

One of the most iconic modern art sculptures of the 20th century sold at auction for a record $32.8 million.

The May 19 sale of Louise Bourgeois’ "Spider" sculpture is the most expensive sculpture by a woman artist ever sold at auction, according to Sotheby’s New York.

"Fraught with chilling grandeur, Spider from 1996 is the ultimate embodiment of Louise Bourgeois’ singular contribution to the history of Modern Art," Sotheby’s said when they announced the sale. "Among the earliest monumental iterations of Bourgeois’ Spiders, the present work represents the absolute zenith of her artistic practice and the most ambitious embodiment of her signature motif."

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Best known for her giant spider sculptures, Bourgeois was born in Paris in 1911 and moved to New York in 1938. She had a solo retrospective at the Museum of Modern Art in 1982, and an installation at the opening of the Tate Modern in London decades later. In 1997, she was one of 11 recipients of a National Medal of Arts.

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"The Spider is an ode to my mother," Bourgeois explained in 2008 when her largest spider sculpture was acquired by Tate in London. "She was my best friend. Like a spider, my mother was a weaver.  My family was in the business of tapestry restoration, and my mother was in charge of the workshop. Like spiders, my mother was very clever. Spiders are friendly presences that eat mosquitoes. We know that mosquitoes spread diseases and are therefore unwanted. So, spiders are helpful and protective, just like my mother. "

Bourgeois died in 2010 at 98 years old. In her obituary, The Los Angeles Times said she was "known for sculptures of giant spiders, women with extra breasts, double-headed phalluses and rooms that resonate with loneliness and dread."