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Kahlo Work Takes Record $5.6M At Strong Latin American Sales

With records falling for multiple artists, the Latin American art market reached new highs in sales at Christie’s and Sotheby’s from May 23-25. The overall total of $23 million at Sotheby’s exceeded the presale estimate of $14.6/19.8 million and was the highest ever for Latin American art, the auction house reports. Sotheby’s specialist Carmen Melián

NEW YORK—With records falling for multiple artists, the Latin American art market reached new highs in sales at Christie’s and Sotheby’s from May 23-25. The overall total of $23 million at Sotheby’s exceeded the presale estimate of $14.6/19.8 million and was the highest ever for Latin American art, the auction house reports. Sotheby’s specialist Carmen Melián attributes the record volume to “the broadening market over the last two decades.”

An anonymous buyer paid $5.6 million (estimate: $5/7 million) for a 1943 self-portrait, Roots, by Frida Kahlo (1907-54), a record for a work by a Latin American artist at auction.

The Sotheby’s day and evening sales were 78 percent sold by lot, while at Christie’s 70 percent of the works achieved a $16.3 million total. The Kahlo picture at Sotheby’s, an 117⁄8–by-19-inch oil that depicts the artist reclining amid hills and vegetation, carried an estimate of $5/7 million.

The work, owned over the years by only three people, had never before been up for sale in a public venue. It was shown in a 2005 Kahlo retrospective at the Tate Modern, London, and is expected to tour in a 2007- 08 exhibition marking her centennial.

New York dealer Mary-Anne Martin, who had handled the Kahlo when it was sold privately for about $60,000 by Sotheby’s in 1982, told ARTnewsletter, “I thought it was a very good price. Anyone who does the math will realize there are very few paintings of that type that ever come up. The Kahlos that are legitimately out of Mexico have to serve the rest of the world.”

The second-highest lot at Sotheby’s, Francisco Zuñiga’s bronze sculpture Grupo de cuatro mujeres de pie, also set an auction record when it soared above the $700,000/900,000 estimate to garner $3.7 million.

Both Christie’s and Sotheby’s sold large-scale Fernando Botero paintings of musicians for the same price and for a tied auction record: Christie’s realized $2.03 million for Botero’s painting The Musicians, 1979, against an unpublished estimate of $1.8/2.2 million; and Sotheby’s also realized $2.03 million (estimate: $500,000/600,000) for Cuatro músicos (Four Musicians), 1984. Sotheby’s saw another record set for Botero’s bronze sculpture Bird, 1988 (estimate: $500,000/600,000), when an American dealer gave $1.05 million for it.

The Sotheby’s auction set records for the living Cuban artist Tomás Sánchez ($363,200), with Gracia en la cascada, 1992; and for 19th-century Mexican artist Julio Ruelas ($363,200), with the oil-on-canvas Visión de la conquista, 1905, going to an American collector for more than six times its high estimate of $55,000.

Records were set as well for Martha Boto ($51,000), Esteban Chartrand ($180,000), Hugo Demarco ($45,000), Reynaldo Fonseca ($25,200), Edmund Darch Lewis ($60,000), Ricardo Mazal ($25,200), Rodolfo Opazo ($42,000), Luis Tomasello ($31,200) and Luis Armando Zesatti ($54,000).

At the Christie’s sale on May 23, a Surrealist gouache-on-paper, Untitled, 1944, by Wifredo Lam, set an auction record when it was purchased by a museum for $1.3 million, well above the estimated $600,000/800,000. Two 1930s oils by Rufino Tamayo, which had been consigned by an unnamed Swiss collection, ranked as the third- and fourth-highest lots at Christie’s: Naturaleza muerta (Naturaleza muerta con dominós), 1931, which fell within its $400,000/600,000 estimate for $531,200; and Dessert (Still Life with Glasses and Strawberry Pudding), 1939, which went for $475,200 (estimate: $300,000/400,000).

Provenance Matters More and More

Virgilio Garza, head of Latin American art at Christie’s, told ARTnewsletter that the Lam and the Tamayos had never been on the market before. The prices achieved, Garza says, “point in the direction of an audience that is increasingly susceptible to provenance.”

Two other works by Botero, both bronze sculptures with brown patina, figured in Christie’s top lots: Horse, 2003, sold for $408,000 against an estimate of $350,000/450,000; and Still Life with Watermelon, 1976-77, brought $374,400 (estimate: $350,000/450,000).

In addition to the Botero and Lam paintings, auction records were made at Christie’s for Roberto Aizenberg ($31,200), Carlos Enríquez ($114,000), Mathias Goeritz ($340,800), José Chávez Morado ($28,800), Rodolfo Morales ($216,000) and Patricio Ramos ($54,000). Garza says that most of the buyers were North American, followed by a substantial number of Latin Americans, but that there were also winning bidders from Europe and Asia.

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