Executive Strategies for the Americas: New heights for Latin art: Latin American art has already entered the mainstream for serious collectors. Now, the latest auctions at Sotheby’s and Christie’s have blessed the genre with new levels of value

New heights for Latin art: Latin American art has already entered the mainstream for serious collectors. Now, the latest auctions at Sotheby’s and Christie’s have blessed the genre with new levels of value – The Arts

Stephanie Gaskell

For Sotheby’s the evening auction appeared to be business as usual. The room was filled to capacity, with a dozen or so people standing at the back, the audience offering bids with its typical self-restraint. The only interruption was a rustle of polite applause following the sale of a self-portrait by Mexican painter Frida Kahlo.

But it was not business as usual. The Kahlo portrait – which sold for more than US$5 million – set a new world record for Latin American art at auction.

The portrait, painted in 1929 – the year Kahlo married Mexican artist Diego Rivera and shortly after she was left crippled by a bus accident – was sold to an American private collector for US$5,065,750. The previous record for Kahlo’s work was US$3,192,750, set at Sotheby’s in 1995 for her 1942 painting Autorretrato con Chango y Loro. That was also the previous record for any Latin American artwork.

“We are extremely pleased at the performance of the Frida Kahlo self-portrait, which brought the Latin American art market to a new level,” says Isabella Hutchinson, vice president and director of Sotheby’s Latin American art department.

The end-of-May sale, however, was merely the highlight of a record-setting week for Latin art at both Sotheby’s and Christie’s auction houses in New York City.

Another world record was set at the Sotheby’s auction, this one by Mexican artist Angel Zarraga. His 1917 painting titled Femme a sa Toilette sold for US$566,750. The recent re-discovery had been valued at an estimated US$300,000-US$400,000. Zarraga’s previous record for a sale at auction was US$321,500, for his 1918 painting Mujer con Batea de Frutas.

At Christie’s the following night, Chilean artist Guillermo Mufloz Vera more than tripled his previous record sale at auction, realizing US$215,000 for his Diptico-Interior con Tinajas. The painting had been valued at between US$60,000 and US$80,000. Munoz’s previous record sale was US$60,500 for Pomegranates in Niche, at a Christie’s auction in 1999.

Four other records were also set at Christie’s that night: Argentine Nicolas Leiva’s 1998 painting, Los Diez Mandamientos, sold for US$30,550; his previous record was US$27,600. Cuban artist Manuel Mendive’s Tigre Con Garra, painted in 1999, sold for US$22,325; his previous record was US$18,400. Mexico’s Aldolfo Riestra’s 1989 painting, Banista, sold for US$21,150; his previous record was US$ 741. And Brazilian Walter Goldfarb sold his first piece at auction for US$22,350.

While several artists broke records, however, total sales were modest at both auction houses. At Christie’s, 36 of 71 lots offered were sold for a total of US$5,879,900. Sotheby’s sold 47 of 75 works offered for a grand total of US$11,517,700.

“It was very sort of black and white” says Hutchinson. “On the one hand some things did very well and on the other hand, there were some things that just bad no interest. Normally, it’s more even.” She points out that Cuban artist Wilfredo Lam’s 1945 painting Ceaux de la Porte Battante, estimated at US$800,000 to US$1,000,000, did not sell.

Ana Sokoloff, who heads Christie’s Latin American art department, says she was surprised that Spanish artist Remedios Varo’s Creacion con Rayos Astrales did not sell. The piece was valued at US$280,000 to US$360,000 and had generated some interest from prospective buyers before the auction. “While the overall market for Latin American art remains strong, buyers tonight were selective,” says Sokoloff, who added that the “great masters of Latin American art, such as Diego Rivera, Fernando Botero, Matta and Leonora Carrington continue to lead the market.”

Christie’s did sell Rivera’s 1920 painting En el Vinedo for US$721,000 to a private Mexican buyer. Botero’s Frutas Sobre Fondo Amarillo, painted in 1980, sold for US$292,000 to an anonymous buyer. Carrington’s Baile se Mascaras also sold for US$292,000. The 1954 painting, which uses masks and dancing as a metaphor for spiritual transformation, was estimated at US$350,000 to US$450,000. It was sold to a US buyer, which Sokoloff says is a new trend in the Latin American art market.

“New buyers continue to enter the Latin American art collecting field at all levels, in particular North American buyers, who purchased four of the top 10 lots,” she says.

Also at Christie’s auction, Fernando Botero’s bronze sculpture Reclining Venus sold for US$468,000 to a private US buyer, a world record for a sculpture by the Colombian artist.

Among the other three pieces bought by US buyers of Christie’s top ten lots was Tomas Sanchez’s tropical Nubes Sabre la Laguna, which sold for US$314,000, a record sale for the contemporary Cuban artist. Matta’s Sin Titulo was also sold to a US buyer for US$248,000.

Sotheby’s saw the same trend at its Latin American art auction, with five of its top 10 lots going to US buyers. Botero’s painting Cuatro Mujeres, for one, sold for US$511,750 to a private US collector.

“Most of the top lots in tonight’s sale were bought by [North] American private collectors,” said Hutchinson of Sotheby’s. “[These collectors are] new to the Latin American art market, but are already collectors in other areas such as Contemporary, Impressionist and Modern.”


New Records for Latin American Art at the June Auctions:

1. Frida Kahlo, Mexico, Self-Portrait, US$5,065,750, Sotheby’s (previous record: US$3,192,750)

2. Angel Zarraga, Mexico, Femme a sa Toilette (Portrait de Mademoiselle), US$566,750, Sotheby’s (previous record US$321,500)

3. Nicolas Leiva, Argentina, Los Diez Mandamientos, US$30,550, Christie’s (previous record: US$27,600)

4. Manuel Mendive, Cuba, Tigre con Garra, US$22,325, Christie’s (previous record: US$18,400)

5. Guillermo Munoz Vera, Chile, Diptico-Interior con Tinajas, US$215,000, Christie’s (previous record: US$60,500)

6. Adolfo Riestra, Mexico, Banista, US$21,150, Christie’s (previous record: US$741)

7. Tomas Sanchez, Cuba, Nubes Sobre la Laguna, US$314,000, Christie’s (previous record: US$308,000)

8. Walter Goldfarb, Brazil, The King and the Shoemaker, US$22,350, Christie’s (previous record: none; this was his first sale at auction)

9. Fernando Botero, Colombia, Reclining Venus (sculpture), US$468,000 Christie’s (previous sculpture record: US$420,000)

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