NEW YORK—With 51 artists’ records falling, six works selling for more than a million dollars each and interest running strong for established masters and recent artists alike, the Latin American art market held up strongly in New York auctions at Sotheby’s and Christie’s from Nov. 19-21. Combined sales totaled $49.9 million, up considerably from $39.1 million last November. Christie’s overall take was $28.1 million, with 76 percent of the lots finding buyers. Sotheby’s realized $21.76 million, on a 75 percent sell-through rate.
Paintings and sculpture by Colombian artist Fernando Botero figured prominently, accounting for five of the top ten lots at Christie’s and four at Sotheby’s. However, interest was strong for a wide range of artists and periods, and works were snapped up by North American and Latin American collectors alike.
The most expensive lot was a 1986 Botero marble sculpture of a voluptuous woman reclining, cigarette in hand, Mujer fumando, which a South American collector acquired at Christie’s for $1.6 million, more than double the $600,000 high estimate and a record for a sculpture by the artist. The four other Boteros in the Christie’s top ten—three paintings and the 2003 bronze sculpture Dancers—attained prices from $645,800/1.55 million and, for the most part, sold within their estimates.
A work by Alfredo Ramos Martínez (1872-1946), Untitled (Woman with Flowers), in gouache, ink, crayon and graphite, soared over it’s $80,000 high estimate in the day sale at Christie’s to fetch $735,400 from a U.S. collector—a record for a work on paper by the Mexican painter. A 1931 Ramos Martínez oil, Casamiento indio, also rose way above estimate in the Christie’s evening sale, selling to a Mexican collector for $623,400 (estimate: $250,000/350,000).
Christie’s saw artists’ records made in its top ten lots for the Spanish émigré Remedios Varo, whose 1959 Surrealist oil Exploración de las fuentes del río Orinoco, consigned by a collector from Mexico, more than doubled its $600,000 high estimate to bring $1.3 million from a U.S. dealer. Two oils by Rufino Tamayo—Bañistas, 1930, and Diálogo, 1985—further figured in the Christie’s top ten. All five Tamayos in the Christie’s evening sale found buyers. Records also sprang up for such artists as Enio Iommi ($29,800), Antonio Asis ($73,000), Adriana Varejão ($205,000), and Kcho ($73,000).
Christie’s department head Virgilio Garza noted “persistent demand for modern Mexican paintings—Tamayo was 100 percent sold—and for concrete and geometric South American abstraction, including works by Alfredo Hlito, Asis and Sergio Camargo.”
Trashed Tamayo Shows Up at Sotheby’s
As at Christie’s, the top lot at Sotheby’s was a Botero oil on canvas, Le déjeuner sur l’herbe, 1969, taking off from the painting on the same theme by Edouard Manet. It fell to an American dealer for $1.3 million, below the $1.4 million low estimate. But the most startling lot was Tamayo’s 1970 semiabstract oil Tres personajes: Stolen from a Houston warehouse in the late 1980s, it was found in trash outside a New York city apartment building four years ago.
The work, recently returned to its Houston owners, went for $1 million to an American collector at Sotheby’s, just above its high estimate of $1 million. The auction house said the “dumpster diver” who found the Tamayo had received a $15,000 finder’s fee and would get an undisclosed percentage of the sale price.
The three other Boteros in the Sotheby’s top ten included a bronze and two oils, with all three selling just above their high estimates.
Records Set for Siqueiros and Reverón
Artists’ records were set for Mexican artist David Alfaro Siqueiros, whose 1939 painting Niño tarahumara went to a New York dealer for $529,000 (estimate: $250,000/350,000); and for Venezuelan Armando Reverón, whose late 1930s oil-and-tempera landscape Paisaje de macuto was acquired, again for $529,000, by an American collector (estimate: $400,000/600,000).
Carmen Melian, head of the Latin American art department at Sotheby’s, noted “continued crossover interest from the contemporary and Impressionist markets indicating an ever-widening geographic base of buyers.”
Among other highlights at Sotheby’s: A 1956 oil on Masonite by Varo, Au bonheur des dames (Au bonheur des citoyens), took $881,000, just above its $800,000 high estimate, from a Latin American collector; and Leonora Carrington’s oil El baño, a 1957 Surrealist scene, was acquired by a New York dealer for $541,000 (estimate: $300,000/350,000).
Some of the few works by celebrated artists to falter at the sales include paintings by Chilean Surrealist Matta. Of eight that were offered at Sotheby’s, just three found buyers; the highest price was $361,000.
Sotheby’s had guaranteed a Matta triptych, Et At It, 1944, offered from the estate of Richard S. Zeisler for the benefit of the National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C. With an estimate of $2.5/3.5 million, it failed to meet its reserve. At Christie’s another large-scale, 1940s Matta oil, Le recontre du vitreur avec le forcat de la lumière (en hallucination première), estimated at $700,000/900,000, failed to sell.
Two works at Sotheby’s by Venezuelan Alejandro Otero (1921-1990) achieved $253,000 each, a record for the artist. Among living artists for whom records were set at Sotheby’s were Léon Ferrari ($67,000), Rosângela Rennó ($22,500), Marta Colvin ($21,250), Zilia Sánchez ($20,000), Francisca Sutil ($79,000), Pablo Cardoso ($37,000), Eduardo Bortk ($28,000), Jorge Duarte ($15,000), Armando Romero ($46,000) and Carlos Luna ($37,000).