ARTnewsletter Archive

Latin American Art Rises From Last Spring’s Levels

Overall totals of Latin American art were up at Sotheby’s and Christie’s as the sales saw vibrant, global demand and set several new records.

NEW YORK—Overall totals of Latin American art were up at Sotheby’s and Christie’s as the sales saw vibrant, global demand and set several new records. Christie’s posted a total of $27 million across two sales (May 22–23)—a $23 million evening sale followed by a $4.7 million day sale—up from the $22.6 million total achieved last year. Sotheby’s two sales achieved $26.9 million—including a healthy $21.8 million at its May 23 evening auction, and $5.1 million at the May 24 day sales—drawing even with last spring’s total that included two smaller, specialized sales (ANL, 6/14/11). Sotheby’s total would have been higher had one of its star lots—Diego Rivera’s 1939 Niña en Azul y Blanco, estimated at $4 million/6 million—found a buyer. Phillips de Pury & Company opened the week with a $3.5 million Latin American art sale at its Park Avenue headquarters, having first ventured into this genre in late 2009.

At Christie’s main evening sale, there were 83 lots offered. Of these, 69, or 83 percent, were sold. By value, the sale realized 84 percent. The top lot, Matta’s La révolte des contraires, 1944, set a new auction record for the Chilean Surrealist artist when it sold for $5 million, far surpassing the $1.8 million/2.5 million estimate. Specialist Virgilio Garza called the record “a long overdue recognition,” for Matta.

Other records set at the sale included $1.1 million for Brazilian artist Candido Portinari’s oil on canvas titled Navio negreiro, 1950, against an estimate of $700,000/900,000 and $794,500 for Argentinian artist Emilio Pettoruti, for the oil painting Concierto, 1941, which was estimated at $300,000/500,000 and had been in the same private collection since it was acquired directly from the artist. Garza said, “Brazilian works performed exceptionally well and were 100 percent sold,” including those by Portinari, Ernesto Neto and Vik Muniz.

Other top lots in the sale included Uruguayan artist Joaquín Torres-García’s tempera on board titled Grafismo universal sobre fondo gris, 1937, which sold to a US dealer for $1.4 million (estimate: $1 million/1.5 million) and Claudia Bravo’s realist-style painting of draped, multiple-colored fabrics, Psalterium, 1998, which sold for $1.1 million (estimate: $800,000/1.2 million). Another work by Torres-García that figured in the top lots was his oil titled Pintura constructiva, 1930. The piece sold above the high $500,000 estimate, for $542,500, to a US dealer.

Works by Fernando Botero, a mainstay of these Latin American art sales, also featured in the top lots. His oil painting The Street, 1995, sold for $1.4 million (estimate: $600,000/800,000), while The Arnolfini (after Van Eyck), 1997, adapted from the iconic painting to include Botero’s signature, rotund characters, sold for $842,500, clearing the $500,000/700,000 estimate.

Record $4.6M Lam Painting Leads Sotheby’s

Sotheby’s evening sale on May 23 realized $21.8 million, up considerably from last year’s various owner offerings, which realized $14 million. Sotheby’s said it was its highest-ever total for a Latin American art evening sale, noting that it had also exceeded the low-end $20.8 million estimate.

The house said nine new artist records were achieved, including a record for the top lot, Cuban artist Wifredo Lam’s Ídolo (Oya/Divinité de l’air et de la mort), 1944, an oil and charcoal on canvas that had been in a private collection in Caracas, Venezuela, for over 60 years. Estimated to bring $2 million/3 million, the work sold for $4.6 million to a private buyer based in South America.

Sotheby’s head of Latin American art, Axel Stein, said “Ídolo is a work we have known for over 35 years, and we always felt that it had the potential to reach new heights.”

Other records included the $872,500 paid for Armando Reverón’s tempera, chalk and charcoal titled Desnudo detrás de la mantilla, ca. 1946, which was estimated at $700,000/900,000, and the $602,500 paid for a metal wire and thread construction by Gego (Gertrudis Goldschmidt) titled Dibujo sin papel, 1985, which was estimated at $200,000/300,000.

Stein said the sale also saw a number of “exceptional prices for Kinetic Art,” led by the early Jesús Rafael Soto “masterpiece” Sin Título (Vibración Amarilla y Blanca), 1960, that sold for $1 million (estimate: $400,000/600,000).

As at Christie’s, work by Brazilian artists was highly sought after, with strong prices including Sergio Camargo’s painted wood construction, Hommage à Fontana (Relief no. 129), 1967, selling for $1.5 million, far above the $600,000/800,000 estimate.