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New Collectors Enliven $27M Latin American Sales

With choice works available and past records falling, the Latin American art market showed continuing strength in New York at Christie’s and Sotheby’s auctions held from Nov. 15-17. The total of sales at both houses was $27 million, up from $20.8 million last fall (see ANL, 12/7/04). The highest result came at Sotheby’s, with 77

Botero, Matta and Portinari Paintings Lead

NEW YORK—With choice works available and past records falling, the Latin American art market showed continuing strength in New York at Christie’s and Sotheby’s auctions held from Nov. 15-17. The total of sales at both houses was $27 million, up from $20.8 million last fall (see ANL, 12/7/04).

The highest result came at Sotheby’s, with 77 percent of the lots selling through for a $15.5 million total, compared with $11.7 million last year. Eight records were set, and the auction house said the evening portion of the sale had been the most successful since 2000. At Christie’s the total was $11.5 million on a 68 percent sell-through rate, with 10 auction records set. This was up from its $9.1 million total posted last year.

The most expensive work to sell was Fernando Botero’s 72-by-81-inch oil painting The Musicians, 1979, which was bid beyond its high $1.2 million estimate to sell for $1.5 million to a European dealer at Sotheby’s. A Botero sculpture, Dancers, 2003, also figured in the top ten lots at Sotheby’s, selling above the high $500,000 estimate for $609,600 to an American collector. At Christie’s four Botero works were among the top ten lots, including the 1973 painting Junta Militar, which an American collector bought for $912,000 (estimate: $750,000/950,000).

The top lot at Christie’s was a mural-size 1968 abstract painting by Matta (1911-2002), Watchman, What of the Night?, which was being deaccessioned by the Metropolitan Museum of Art, Manhattan. The work fell to a Latin American collector for $990,400 (estimate: $500,000/700,000).

At Sotheby’s a much smaller picture from a more celebrated period in Matta’s long career, L’Eau (El Agua), 1939, fetched a within-estimate $1.4 million.

Another painting being sold from a museum collection, Tocador de Trombeta, 1958, by Brazilian artist Cândido Portinari, set an auction record for the artist when it brought $721,600, against an estimate of $300,000/400,000, at Christie’s evening sale on Nov. 15. The work came from the Detroit Institute of Arts and was sold to benefit the museum’s acquisition fund.

‘The Diego Rivera of Brazil’

The next night at Sotheby’s, Portinari’s record zoomed to new heights when a Brazilian collector paid $940,000 for his Balanço (Swing), 1959, more than quadruple the $200,000 high estimate. (The work came from the estate of Benno Gitter, an Israeli collector whose interest in Latin American art began during his World War II exile in Argentina.) The circa 1940 Mexerico (Gossip), an earlier Portinari that had not been on public view since its exhibition at New York’s Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) in 1940, sold at Sotheby’s for $542,400, more than triple the high estimate. “Portinari is the Diego Rivera of Brazil,” New York dealer Mary-Anne Martin told ARTnewsletter. “He has always been avidly collected in Brazil, and he was very well-known here, but little by little disappeared into collections.”

Sotheby’s director of Latin American art Carmen Melián says the sale “saw great strength for Brazilian artists, with stunning prices achieved in bidding battles for the works of Candido Portinari,” noting Mexerico (Gossip) in particular. Adds Melián: “Sculpture did well this evening and we saw strong prices for sculptural works by Jesús Rafael Soto, Botero and Agustín Cárdenas.”

Among the top lots at Christie’s a record was set for Untitled, a 1964 minimalist tempera and oil on wood by Brazilian artist Mira Schendel, which was acquired by an unnamed museum for $284,800, above the high estimate of $250,000.

Soto: On a Roll

Venezuelan artist Soto’s Ecriture, N.Y., 1984, a mural-size composition of wood, aluminum and nylon, also set a six-figure record at Christie’s when it took in $262,400, well above its high estimate of $200,000, from an American dealer.

The Soto record was boosted even higher the next night at Sotheby’s with the sale of Vibración, 1959, a composition of painted wood and metal, for $419,200, more than triple the high $120,000 estimate.

Further records were set at Sotheby’s for Maria Martins ($240,000), Cárdenas ($156,000), Francisco Manuel Oller ($102,000), Alicia Penalba ($60,000), León Ferrari ($60,000) and the three-man Cuban collective Los Carpinteros ($42,000).

Records also abounded at Christie’s for Alfredo Guttero ($90,000), Alfredo Volpi ($192,000), Julio le Parc ($45,600), Cildo Meireles ($84,000) and Carlos Amorales ($22,800).

Virgilio Garza, head of the Latin American department at Christie’s, told ARTnewsletter that the good selection of Brazilian artists in the sales had brought out buyers from that country. And, he added, “we saw Mexican buyers coming back after many years.”

Dealer Martin points out that Matta, Portinari and Soto, whose work sold strongly in the auctions, had once enjoyed a mainstream presence in New York, with their works showing at MoMA and elsewhere. “After 25 years,” she says, “it’s changing again. The world is getting so small, and younger collectors are more open to whatever is interesting.”

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