Latin American Auctions

  • The Road to Freedom
  • Nude of Dolores
  • Les Amants (Loving Couple)
  • Delfina Flores

The Latin American auctions in New York ended on a very optimistic note. The renewed strength of collectors in South America was reinforced by spirited bidding from North American and international collectors. This season also marked the last sale of Ana Sokoloff, the head of the Latin American department at Christie¿s who is going forward as private art advisor. Sokoloff is to be credited with the most important innovation in the field of the past decade: the introduction, development, and crossover of contemporary artists of international quality from Latin America. Prior to Sokoloff¿s arrival at Christie¿s some young artists, such as Guillermo Kuitca and Julio Galán, had been introduced to the sales and were considered ¿hot,¿ but no one had ever dedicated a section of the catalogue to the art being produced in Latin America by young, well-respected, emerging artists who were not only in touch with the latest international currents in art, but also were players in the international contemporary art scene. With the unique talent of an authentic visionary Sokoloff discovered these artists and introduced them in a special section of the evening sale at Christie¿s November 1998 auction. Adriana Varejâo, Francis Alÿs, and Cildo Meireles were among the names that sold successfully in this first attempt. This success was soon followed early in June of 1999 when Sokoloff, in an incredible coup, offered the Bruno Musatti collection of contemporary art at auction. Musatti¿s wife, Jeanette Leirner, is from a family with a longstanding commitment to the arts and includes the collector Adolph Leirner, as well as Nelson and Jac Leirner, both very well-known and internationally acclaimed artists. This collection was sold in its entirety, with many lots going above the high estimates. The sale put these artists on the map overnight, and for the first time placed in perspective the enormous contribution of Brazilian artists to the contemporary language. This sale made Sokoloff a cult figure both in Brazil¿s contemporary art world and among collectors who were eager to expand their collections; she opened new horizons by including artists who were developing a language totally in sync with the international mainstream. The evening sale at Sotheby¿s was expected to earn $8.5 million and it brought in $8.7 million. Kirsten Hammer, director of the Latin American department, made a point of stating that the sale was robust and interest was strong from Latin as well as North American collectors. The beautiful painting by Diego Rivera, Delfina Flores, was conservatively estimated at $700,000/900,000 because as part of the Mexican patrimony it could not be exported from Mexico, and it still managed to achieve $926,400. Niña Tehuacana, Lucha Maria, the Frida Kahlo painting that was also offered under the same premise did not find a buyer, however in this case, it can be argued that the painting had been on the market for a considerable amount of time prior to the sale, and therefore was not new to the market. It certainly was not an indication of the Mexican market, which responded very well throughout the season and brought the high price of $1,100,000 for Diego Rivera¿s Maternidad, offered at Sotheby¿s auction, where Rivera¿s The Fishermen also sold very well for the high estimate at $568,000. At Christie¿s the highlight of the Mexican offerings was Tamayo¿s Juego de Niños, which sold for $567, 500 (est. $500,000/700,000), but the greatest sales were of works from other regions. La Pareja, the Wifredo Lam on the catalogue cover, achieved a world record for a work on paper selling at $881,100 (est. 350,000/450,000). Other great highlights of the sale were three pieces from the estate of Dolores Smithies, a distinguished collector who was known for her excellent collection of Latin American art. Her beautiful 1942 drawing by Matta was estimated at $150,000/200,000 and sold for a world record for a work on paper by that artist at $197,900. The two other pieces also did very well, one a small yet excellent watercolor by Julio Larraz that was estimated at $10,000/14,000 and sold for well over the estimate at $16,730, and the other a colorful Amelia Pelaez, Piña, which was estimated at $120,000/160,000 and sold for $197,900. Works by Venezuelan artists sold particularly well this season. Christie¿s offered a Soto from 1972 estimated at $30,000/50,000 and bidding rose rapidly to $136,300; a wooden sculpture by Francisco Narvaez was estimated at $15,000/20,000 and although the condition of the piece was not the best, spirited bidding pushed the price to $41,825. However, the highest price achieved in the sale and the entire auction season was not for a single work of art, but rather for objects of memorabilia: a pair of beautiful guns made by the celebrated French manufacturer, Nicolas-Noel Boutet for the great Libertador, Simón Bolivar. The guns were expected to bring between $600,000/800,000 but several bidders brought the price up quickly. A long battle ensued between a telephone bidder and the bidder in the room who finalized the purchase at the incredible sum of $1,687,500. The highest price at Sotheby¿s auction also went to a Venezuelan work: $1,352,000 for Lénfant Malade, the academic painting by Arturo Michelena, , which had won the gold medal at the Paris Salon exhibition of 1887. At least four different bidders pursued the work above the estimated $150, 000/200,000, indicating the strong demand for works by this artist that seldom come to auction. In this particular case, the painting was also a discovery. It had not been seen in public since 1926 and shortly afterward it went into storage at the Ringling Museum. It was discovered there through the extensive research and dedicated investigation conducted by Alex Stein, Sotheby¿s representative in Miami. The Sotheby¿s sale also scored a success for the Ecuadorian artist Manuel Rendón. His Nue dans un paysage exotique, which had carried a conservative estimate of $50,000/70,000, surpassed expectations and brought a new world record for the artist when it sold for $131,200. Other highlights included strong prices for Torres Garcia¿s Grafismo inciso con dos figuras, which sold for $153,600 (est. $100,000 /150,000) and Claudio Bravo¿s I love you sepia, which realized $500,800 (est. $350,000/450,000). The monumental bronze by Zúñiga, Desnudo de Dolores, achieved a new world record for the master when it surpassed the estimated $200,000/250,000 and sold for $411,200. A rare, almost abstract painting by Wifredo Lam from the 1950s, also performed very well, surpassing the estimated $150,000/200,000 to achieve $254,400. All the other Venezuelan works offered at the evening auction sold above the estimates; a piece by Carlos Cruz Diez had been estimated at $12,000/18,000, but several bidders rapidly pushed the price to $51,000, more than twice the high estimate, and a new record for the artist. A beautiful Soto from 1970 estimated at $35,000/45,000 quickly reached $48,000; following it an abstraction in metal by Gego that had been estimated at $18,000/22,000 rose to a phenomenal $90,000, perhaps because the bidders in the room were aware that a work by the same artist was on the cover of the catalogue for Sotheby¿s contemporary sale. It was a much larger and more complex work, and sold for $411,200 (est. $100,000/150,000), a record for the artist. The last lot of the sale was an early Soto from 1959 that carried an estimate of $60,000/80,000 and sold after a bidding frenzy for $232,000, more than twice its high estimate, and also a new world record for the artist. Another positive result of the auctions was the recovery of the prices for Botero¿s paintings. At Sotheby¿s his early Madonna and Child (Nuestra Señora del Carmen) had been estimated at $250,000/300,000 but the price rose to $411,200. At Christie¿s an even earlier work from 1959, El milagro de St. Hilarion, had been estimated at $150 ,000/200,000 and sold at $175,500, and his Maceta de Flores, also at Christie¿s, rose above the estimated $50,000/70,000 and sold for $130,700. More spectacular than any of these prices was the $993,100 obtained for Botero¿s Les Amants (Loving Couple) at Christie¿s contemporary sale, where it carried an estimate of $500,000/700,000. This painting from 1973 brought the highest price for a Botero painting since 1992, when Botero passed the one million dollar barrier with the sale of La Casa de las gemelas Arias; Les Amants is now the third most expensive Botero painting on auction record. On the contemporary front, both houses achieved new success and reaffirmed the interest in this area of Latin American art. At Christie¿s an installation titled La siesta by the group of Cuban artists known as Los Carpinteros, sold high above its estimated $10,000/15,000 when several bidders pushed the price to $23,900; the other work in the sale by Los Carpinteros, was a group of three watercolors estimated at $8,000/12,000 that sold for $21,510. Two photographs by Ana Mendieta, recently the subject of a retrospective at the Whitney Museum, were in the evening sale. The first, a work from the Labyrinth of Venus series had been estimated at $12,000/16,000 and rose to $19,120; the second was a work from the Silueta series that had been estimated at $12,000/16,000 and realized $20, 315. Another highlight of the contemporary offerings was a small work by Neto estimated at $5,000/7,000 that sold for $14,340, double the high estimate. Another surprise at the evening sale was a dramatic marble sculpture by the Uruguayan Pablo Atchugarry that surpassed its estimate of $30,000/35,000 and sold for $85,000. more than double the high estimate. A work by Alfredo Jaar, the body is the map, consisted of nine cibachromes, each mounted on a white background; it was estimated at $10,000/15,000 and sold for $17,925. A pair of silver prints by the well-known contemporary Brazilian artist, Vik Muniz was estimated at $6,000/8,000 but several bidders wanted the works and the price rose to $16,133. Mira Shendel¿s Toquinhos also performed very well; the three works on paper had been estimated at $4,000/6,000 and realized $8,963. Sotheby¿s included several Latin Americans this time around in their contemporary art auction. Doris Salcedo¿s Atrabiliarios had been estimated at $20,000/30,000 and did very well selling at $39,0000; Daniel Senise sold his monochrome painting, Tait for $16,8000 (est. 18,000/22,000). A beautiful but small work by Beatríz Milhazes was estimated at $18,000/22,000 but soared to $42,000, almost double the high estimate. A similar fate awaited the beautiful landscape photographed by Gabriel Orozco. Tree Bench had been estimated at $6,000/8,000 and sold for $27,000, more than three times that amount. A set of Ernesto Pujol photographs from the Motions series sold for $12,000 (est. 12,000/18,000) and Vik Muniz was again very successful with the sale of his B. 1961, which realized $51,000 (est. $25,000/35,000). Phillip¿s International Auctioneers also included Latin American artists in their contemporary sales. Gabriel Orozco had three excellent works included in the celebrated Lambert collection of photography. The first Orozco offered, Common Dream, is a photo of sheep huddled together in an arid landscape. It had been estimated at $4,000/6,000 but it quickly climbed upwards selling at $27,600, more than four times the high estimate. The second work offered was titled Gato en la jungla. It had also been estimated at $4,000/6,000 and went very high selling at $26,400. The last Orozco of the sale was a group of seven cibachromes, each from an edition of five. It had been estimated at $30,000/40,000 and sold at $117,600, overall an incredible success for the artist. Also at Phillips, Doris Salcedo¿s Atribiliarios sold for $40,800 (est. $35,000/45,000) and Vik Muniz surpassed the estimate of $10,000/15,000 for his Babe (from the chocolate series), which sold for $27,600. Francis Alÿs¿s work, Untitled (Le bon prophète), also did well at $20,400 (est. 10,000/15,000). The one conclusion that clearly may be drawn from this season is that contemporary Latin American artists are breaking new ground in the mainstream of the international art market. The work they produce is being snapped up by contemporary art collectors in the United States and Europe and it is being recognized more frequently now for its inherent quality rather than for its source of origin. A confirmation of this tendency also was appreciated this season at the opening of the new Museum of Modern Art building in New York City. Latin American masters are shown hanging comfortably in the vicinity of Picasso and Mondrian: Siqueiros¿s work looks great next to Beckmann, and Frida Kahlo holds court among the Surrealists that she met in life when she traveled to Paris in 1939 and the Louvre acquired a work from the exhibition that André Breton organized for her. Both houses have been holding the auctions more than twenty years, and this season, for the first time, it was clear for all to see that Latin American art has at long last joined the mainstream. Christie¿s Sales Total: $9,069,626. Lots offered: 161; lots Sold/Unsold:115 /46 Sotheby¿s Sales Total: $11,737,200. Lots offered: 144; lots Sold/Unsold: 95/49 All results quoted include the commission charged. ?