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Latin American Art Scores Artist Records Despite Steep Overall Drop

The spring auctions of Latin American art at Sotheby’s and Christie’s on May 27–29 brought in a combined total of $23.2 million, down sharply from the $62 million total of last May (ANL, 6/10/08).

NEW YORK—The spring auctions of Latin American art at Sotheby’s and Christie’s on May 27–29 brought in a combined total of $23.2million, down sharply from the $62million total of last May (ANL, 6/10/08). Still, both houses claimed several new artist records set in the sales, and sell-through rates averaged around 69 percent.

Sotheby’s took in a total of $9.4million in its evening and day sales, about a third of the $28.1million the house realized last year, and below the estimate of $10.6mil­lion/14.3million. Of 213 lots offered, 137, or 64 percent, found buyers, and the auction was 68 percent sold by value. Christie’s led the series, with total sales of $13.8million, also down considerably from the $33.9million total of last June’s Latin American sales. Of 275 lots on offer, 187, or 68 percent, found buyers; by value, the auction was 77 percent sold.

“These sales remind me of how the sales used to be. I thought they did quite well,” said New York dealer Mary-Anne Martin, who specializes in Latin American art. “We were living in bubble-land. To me, that was the unreal market. All the usual things that people say after an auction are holding true,” she told ARTnewsletter; namely, that there is healthy demand for good material with solid provenance that is fresh to the market. Martin added that now that the market has readjusted, she expects the next set of sales to yield even better results.

At Sotheby’s $6.7million evening sale on May 27, 42 of the 56 lots, or 75 percent, found buyers. The top lot was Diego Rivera’s tempera on linen Niña con rebozo, 1935, which sold for $794,500, well above the estimate of $350,000/450,000. The second-highest lot was Joaquín Torres-García’s mixed-media Construcción portuaria, 1942, which was sold for $626,500, within its $450,000/650,000 estimate, to a North American collector, according to Sotheby’s. Carmen Melián, head of the house’s Latin American art department, noted in particular “the strength of interest and prices for Latin abstract works.”

Among other figurative works that sold well were Rufino Tamayo’s bright oil painting Girl with Yellow Flowers, 1946, which sold to a Latin American private collector for $530,500, just meeting the low estimate of $500,000/700,000 with premium. Fernando Botero’s Mother Superior, 2006, an oil depicting one of the artist’s signature rotund figures, also sold to a private Latin American buyer, bringing a price of $362,500, within the $300,000/400,000 estimate. The buyers of the top lots came from a wide geographical range, including North America, Brazil, Mexico and Europe.

The $278,500 paid for Procesión de la Virgen, a Mexican scene by French 19th-century painter Édouard-Henri-Théophile Pingret (1788–1875), who according to Sotheby’s catalogue studied under Jean Louis David (1792–1868), was a record for the artist (estimate: $150,000/200,000). According to the catalogue, the work may be considered an “artistic monument” of Mexico, in which case it can not be exported without the approval of the Instituto Nacional de Antro­pología e Historia. It was not available for inspection in New York, and could only be released to the purchaser in Mexico, according to the terms of sale. Sotheby’s listed the buyer as a Mexican private collector.

In all, Sotheby’s claimed 19 record prices, although some of those were for works by artists with relatively short auction track records, and five were for works in a particular medium—Rivera’s Niña con rebozo, for example, set a record for a tempera painting by the artist. Other record lots include Formas contínuas, 1949, an iron sculpture by Argentine artist Enio Iommi (b. 1926), which sold near its $45,000 high estimate for $43,750, and an untitled abstract painting of colorful squares against a purple background by Vene­zuelan artist Mercedes Pardo (1922–2005), which sold for $53,125, well above the estimate of $25,000/35,000 .

The major failure at the Sotheby’s sale was Chiki Ton Pays, 1944, an oil, tempera and ink on canvas, by Leonora Carrington (b. 1917). The estimate of $1.2million/1.6million was not unreasonable, observers said, considering the painting’s previous turn at auction, in a Sotheby’s sale of Surrealist art in London in 2002. It sold there for £421,500 ($595,338) against a £90,000/120,000 estimate. In the end, however, bidders thought the asking price was too high, and the work went unsold this time.

“The next day, an excellent Carrington did sell,” Martin pointed out, referring to the record price achieved at Christie’s. “Her market is very strong.”

Carrington Breaks $1M Mark at Christie’s

Christie’s $11million Latin American evening sale on May 28 offered 63 lots, of which 43, or 68 percent, were sold. By value the auction was 77 percent sold, and the three top lots each brought prices above $1million. The highest price of the sale was $2.2million, paid for Mario Carreño’s Fuego en el batey, 1943, a Duco-and-oil painting on panel (estimate: $1million/2million).

The auction set a record for a work by Car­rington with the $1.5million paid by a private Mexican collector for The Giantess (also known as The Guardian of the Egg), circa 1947. The tempera painting on wood panel surpassed its estimate of $800,000/1.2million.

“We are particularly excited about the long overdue recognition and important world auction record for Leonora Carrington,” Virgilio Garza, head of Christie’s Latin American art department, said after the sale.

The $1million price paid for Rivera’s Auto­retrato, 1941, fell below the estimate of $1.2million/1.8million, but Christie’s officials declared it a record for a self-portrait by the artist. The oil on canvas, also known as The Firestone Self-Portrait, was acquired by a North American collector.

As at Sotheby’s, work by Torres-García was in demand, with Composition, 1931, an oil on canvas laid on wood panel, selling for $422,000 (estimate: $400,000/600,000). Work by Botero was also sought after, with Dancer, 2006, a bronze with dark brown patina, selling for $362,500, clearing the $350,000 high estimate.

Paintings by Tamayo, however, sold for prices below expectations. The oil and sand on canvas Hombre con un farol, 1976, sold below the low estimate of $400,000, bringing $386,500, and Personajes frente a la ventana, 1959, fell short of its $350,000 low estimate to sell for $338,500.

Among other record prices at Christie’s were the $52,500 paid for Untitled (Woman with Umbrella), 1945 (estimate: $25,000/30,000), a gouache by Cuban artist Rene Portocarrero (1912–1986), and the $182,500 paid for Metaesquema 19, 1957–58, a gouache by Hélio Oiticica, which more than doubled the previous record of $82,250, set by the cloth-and-pigment Parangolé de aqua at Christie’s in November 2001.

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