NEW YORK—Volume at the spring auctions of Latin American art at Christie’s and Sotheby’s on May 26–28 rebounded considerably from that of last year’s, with the two houses reporting a total of $37.3million, compared with $23.2million a year ago. Although the total is just 60 percent of the $62million achieved in 2008, experts and collectors were more than satisfied by the global demand and a string of record prices. Both houses got a boost from small but high-quality consignments from separate private collections.
Christie’s realized a total of $20.5million, compared with $13.8million last year, and set records for a dozen artists altogether, including José Clemente Orozco, Cuban artist Damián González (b. 1967), Costa Rican artist Juan Manuel Hernández (b. 1969) and Jesús Rafael Soto. Sotheby’s took in a total of $16.8million in its evening and day sales, compared with $9.4million a year ago, and scored a new $1.4million auction record for Cuban artist Wifredo Lam.
The star of Christie’s evening sale on May 26 was Survivor, 1938, a palm-size painting by Frida Kahlo, which had not been publicly exhibited since 1938, when it was shown at the Julien Levy gallery, New York, as part of the artist’s first solo show. The work, an oil on metal placed by the artist in a handcrafted Oaxacan tin frame, depicts a lone Mexican idol standing in a field. Estimated at $100,000/150,000, the work soared to a final price of $1.2million.
Paintings by Mexican artists dominated the sale. The second-highest price, which also far surpassed its estimate of $200,000/300,000, was the record $1.1million paid by a private buyer for Orozco’s The City, 1929, one of 44 paintings the artist executed during a stay in New York City as part of a seven-year U.S. sojourn. The painting was also one of six consigned from the Lynch Collection, all of which were sold. Rufino Tamayo’s primitive-style oil and sand painting Figura de pie, 1959, from the same group, realized $818,500 on an estimate of $450,000/650,000, selling to a private North American collector.
A more recent painting, Beatriz Milhazes’s oil and acrylic on canvas 578, 1994, sold for $506,500 to a private buyer from South America (estimate: $250,000/350,000). Of 81 works offered in the evening sale, 66, or 81 percent, were sold. By value, the auction was 80 percent sold.
Un Trou sur l’Orange, 1970, a mixed-media work by Soto, sold for a record $758,500 on a $250,000/350,000 estimate, also to a private South American buyer. Fernando Botero’s bronze sculpture Woman on a Horse, 2002, which was acquired directly from the artist by a California-based collector, fell in the middle of the $800,000/1.2million estimate, selling for $1 million to an Asian buyer. Christie’s specialist Virgilio Garza said the sale was marked by “excitement and surprises,” noting that none of the estimates was over $1 million, “and yet, we sold three pieces for over $1 million.” He added, “It shows there is a great deal of pent-up demand for these works.”
Garza said the momentum continued at Christie’s day sale the following day, “with strong bidding across the board.” An oil on canvas by Mexican artist Rodolfo Nieto (1936–88), Hombre con botella, shot past its $15,000/20,000 estimate to sell for $194,500, setting a new artist record and shattering the previous record of $58,000.
In Sotheby’s evening sale on May 27, 46, or 75 percent, of 61 lots sold. The auction was led by a group of ten important works from a private Aspen, Colo. collection—including works by Lam, Leonora Carrington and Rodolfo Morales—which was 100 percent sold and realized a total of $4.3million. Carrington’s The Ordeal of Owain, 1959, sold within the $600,000/800,000 estimate for $722,500. An untitled 1951 work by Chilean Surrealist painter Matta (also from the Aspen collection), sold for $692,500, well above the $350,000/450,000 estimate.
Diego Rivera’s Portrait of Gladys March, 1946, from a different consignor, sold for $662,500, doubling the $225,000/275,000 estimate. Francisco Zúñiga’s sculpture of a falling woman, Desnudo en el Aire, 1970, also doubled expectations, selling for $470,500 against an estimate of $125,000/175,000.
The day sale also saw several new records, albeit at more modest levels. These included the $80,500 paid for Mexican artist Alfonso X. Peña’s oil on masonite Caza y recoleccíon, 1946, (estimate: $50,000/70,000); $74,500 paid for Polo Player, 1938, a gouache on paper by Florencio Molina Campos (estimate: $10,000/15,000); $74,500 for an untitled oil on silk portrait, 1928, by Vicente do Rego Monteiro (estimate: $15,000/20,000); and $40,625 for Omar Rayo’s geometric painting Easy to Fall, 1966, estimated at $12,000/18,000.