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Tamayo Takes Top Prices At Record Latin American Auctions

Sales of Latin American art at Christie’s and Sotheby’s in New York on May 28-30 yielded record volumes.

NEW YORK—Sales of Latin American art at Christie’s and Sotheby’s in New York on May 28-30 yielded record volumes. The $62 million combined total was well above the $50.3 million realized by the two houses last May (ANL, 6/26/07).

Christie’s head of Latin American art Virgilio Garza said bidders “represented an international demographic from many countries in Europe, Asia and the Americas.”

“We saw a lot of new people buying in this arena from all over the world,” Carmen Melián, Sotheby’s director of Latin American art, told ARTnewsletter. “It’s not necessarily just nationalistic buying, which is what you traditionally see—for example, Venezuelans buying Venezuelan art—but also a lot of transnational buying within Latin America.” Melián noted growing ranks of buyers from Europe and the U.S. as well.

Christie’s total for its evening and day sales was $33.9 million, up from $28.9 million a year ago; Sotheby’s took in $28.1 million, also higher than the $21.4 million achieved last May.

Works by Rufino Tamayo took the highest prices of the week. At Christie’s, Trovador (or The Troubadour), 1945, soared past the $3 million high estimate to sell for a record $7.2 million to an anonymous buyer. The painting was consigned by officials of Randolph College, Lynchburg, Va. The work had been given to the school in 1949 by collector and philanthropist Stephen C. Clark, who was president of the board of trustees of the Museum of Modern Art from 1939 to 1946.

The school’s decision last year to sell the Tamayo, along with three other important works of American art, generated intense controversy and prompted the resignation of several staff members of the college’s Maier Museum of Art (ANL, 10/16/07). Opponents of selling the work brought a lawsuit against the school that temporarily halted the sale; however, the legal proceedings ended last March after the plaintiffs failed to raise enough money to obtain a bond on the works that was a condition of the injunction. “After consulting with our art advisors, we determined that the timing for the Tamayo painting was right in the spring Latin American Auction. That is why we chose to sell it when we did,” college spokesperson Brenda Edson wrote in an e-mail to ARTnewsletter. The proceeds, she noted, “will be placed into our endowment, which will allow us to reduce our spending rate.”

The second-highest price at Christie’s was the $2.2 million paid by a Mexican collector for Alfredo Ramos Martínez’s La india, circa 1936, a portrait of a woman with a straw basket of lemons balanced on her head (estimate: $800,000/1.2 million). Another top-selling work by Ramos Martínez was the oil Vendedora de flores, circa 1934, which brought $937,000 (estimate: $600,000/800,000).

Annunciation,1998, an oil-on-canvas diptych depicting draped green and blue fabric by Chilean hyper-realist painter Claudio Bravo (b. 1936), took $1.3 million (estimate: $800,000/1.2 million). A record was set for Leonora Carrington (b. 1917) when Juggler (El Juglar), 1954, fetched $713,000 (estimate: $500,000/700,000).

Sculpture and painting by Colombian artist Fernando Botero (b. 1932) also scored high prices. Horse, 2005, a bronze with dark brown patina, sold for $690,600 on an estimate of $500,000/700,000 and Woman with Dog, a 1997 oil, sold for $645,800 against an estimate of $300,000/400,000. Christie’s offered 80 lots in its evening session, of which 66, or 83 percent, were sold. By value the evening auction was 86 percent sold.

The highest price given at Sotheby’s was also for a Tamayo painting, El comedor de sandías, 1949, which brought in $3.6 million (estimate: $2 million/2.2 million). Four other works by Tamayo figured among the top lots, including El Constructor, 1948, which sold for $965,000 (estimate: $700,000/900,000) and Relojes, 1929, which brought $685,000 (estimate: $325,000/375,000). Melián described the simultaneous appearance of five important Tamayo works on the market as “the perfect storm.” In all, the works brought $6.3 million. (Last year, the Santa Barbara Museum of Art mounted a retrospective of the artist’s work, the first major U.S. exhibition of Tamayo in more than 28 years, which also traveled to Miami and Mexico City.)

A record was set for Joaquín Torres-García when Constructif Mysterieux, 1932, brought $1.7 million (estimate: $1.1 million/1.4 million). The buyer was New York–based Cavaliero Fine Arts. Another record price was the $629,000 given by a Mexican buyer for an oil painting, La señorita del sombrero verde, 1919, by Argentine artist Emilio Pettoruti. A large 1963–64 oil on burlap by Cuban painter Wifredo Lam (1902–82) sold for $713,000 (estimate: $600,000/800,000).

Melián said the house saw evidence of “a buoyant market” at the evening sale on May 29, noting that the $21 million total was a record for a Latin American sale at Sotheby’s. The subsequent morning session on May 30 earned an additional $7.1 million in sales.

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