ARTnewsletter Archive

$39.1M Latin Sales Romp Past Year-Ago Totals

Led by broad demand for paintings and sculpture by Colombian artist Fernando Botero (b. 1932), the Latin American art sales at Sotheby’s and Christie’s from Nov. 20-22 achieved high totals and established records for a number of artists, even as buy-in rates were relatively high. The two houses took a combined total of $39.1 million,

Boteros Cap Wave of ‘Blue Chip Acquisitions’

NEW YORK—Led by broad demand for paintings and sculpture by Colombian artist Fernando Botero (b. 1932), the Latin American art sales at Sotheby’s and Christie’s from Nov. 20-22 achieved high totals and established records for a number of artists, even as buy-in rates were relatively high. The two houses took a combined total of $39.1 million, up considerably from $27 million last fall (ANL, 12/6/05).

At Christie’s, the $21.78 million total—a Nov. 21 evening sale and a Nov. 22 day sale—was bolstered by five Boteros in the top ten lots, while Sotheby’s $17.32 million total featured four Boteros among the top ten—including the highest-priced work, a 62-by-793?8-inch oil, Jugadoras de Cartas II, 1989, which had been in a Long Island, N.Y., collection—and fell within the $1.5/1.8 million estimate to an American collector for $1.7 million. Sotheby’s, at its Nov. 20-21 auctions, sold 68.5 percent of its 213 lots on offer, while Christie’s sell-through rate was 74 percent of a 271-lot total. (At year-ago sales, Sotheby’s made $15.5 million; Christie’s, $11.5 million.)

Works by Cuban-born artist Wifredo Lam (1902-82) brought strong prices at Sotheby’s. His Surrealist canvas Cinco centimetros sobre la tierra, 1955, sold for $688,000, more than double the $200,000/300,000 estimate, while Femme cheval, a 1954 oil, made $632,000, just above the $600,000 high estimate.

After the auction, Carmen Melián, director of Sotheby’s Latin American art department, pointed to the strength of the prices paid for sculptures by Botero, as well as by Costa Rican/Mexican artist Francisco Zúñiga (1912-98), adding that the sales saw “participation from virtually every continent, with new bidders entering the market.”

A large-scale Zúñiga bronze, Tres mujeres caminando, 1981, was the second-highest lot at Sotheby’s, selling near its low $1 million estimate for $1.02 million to a Mexican collector. More surprising was the trajectory of a light-onyx Zúñiga figure of a seated woman with head bent over one knee, Desnudo de Virginia, 1977, which realized $668,000, more than five times the $120,000 high estimate.

New York dealer Mary-Anne Martin told ARTnewsletter she and colleagues at the sale had expected the onyx to sell around its high estimate. Martin noted that she had bid unsuccessfully for a 1957 painting by Mexican abstract painter Gunther Gerzso (1915-2000), Paisaje (Landscape), which set an auction record at Sotheby’s when it sold for $620,800 (estimate: $225,000/300,000) to a Mexican collector said to be a newcomer to the market.

The Gerzso had sold at Sotheby’s in May 1995 for $151,000, then an auction record according to Sotheby’s. On that and another lot, Martin says, she was bidding for a couple of seasoned clients, “and it was really hard to get anything even when the clients were willing to go way beyond what they have in the past.”

Another highlight of the Sotheby’s sale was the $688,000 given by a European collector for a 2000 oil by Chilean hyperrealist Claudio Bravo (b. 1936), Visus Tactus (estimate: $350,000/450,000).

At Christie’s the top lot was a large oil by Mexican artist Alfredo Ramos Martínez (1872-1946), Mujeres con flores, circa 1938, which set an auction record at $1.8 million, quadrupling its $450,000 high estimate.

New York dealer Nohra Haime calls the Martínez record “unexplainable.” The previous record for the artist was $405,500, set at Sotheby’s in November 2002. “For the more contemporary and the more abstract artists, Europeans are paying a lot,” Haime told ARTnewsletter. Noting an influx of new money into the market, Martin says, “Boteros have become blue-chip acquisitions.”

Also reaching an auction record at Christie’s was a 1995 acrylic on canvas by Cuban Tomás Sánchez (b. 1948; ANL, 1/3/06, p. 7)—Oir las aguas (estimate: $220,000/280,000)—which went to a collector for $620,800.

The auction house said seven other artists’ records had been set in the sale, along with records for both a work on paper, Cabareteras, by Mexico’s Jose Clemente Orozco (1883-1949), which made $78,000; and a black Belgian marble sculpture, Le grand oiseaux 1990, by Cuban Agustin Cárdenas (1927-2001), which took $251,200.

At Christie’s all ten Botero works found takers, achieving a cumulative total of more than $4.9 million. Sotheby’s sold 12 of 15 Botero lots for a total of nearly $5.5 million.

Among Christie’s top ten sales were two works by Mexican artist Rufino Tamayo (1889-1991): Mujer y su fantasma, 1974, which fetched $567,000 (estimate: $400,000/600,000); and Saltimbanqui, 1982, which took $542,400 (estimate: $350,000/450,000).

Says Virgilio Garza, head of the Latin American art department at Christie’s: The sale results reflect “the energetic forces that have been driving the market over the past weeks.” He adds, “We were also very pleased with the results of the historical paintings from Mexico and Venezuela.”

  • Issues