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​Latin American Art: latest results

[28 Nov 2017]

For nearly 40 years, the major auction companies have supported and provided an outlet for Latin American art in New York. The first specialized LatAm art sale in New York dates back to 17 October 1979. Back then, Sotheby’s was involved in the “emergence” of art from various parts of the world, and it was followed in the 2000s by Christie’s and Phillips. For the last ten years, the three auction operators have organised annual sales entirely dedicated to Modern and Contemporary Latin American art.

This year, the three firms’ specialized LatAm art sales were all organized on the same day (21 November 2017) whereas they are traditionally spread over two days… and unfortunately the tighter schedule had a negative impact on the results;

In the first place, the number of works offered was significantly lower than last year: down from 525 to 330, and, naturally, the combined sales total fell back from $48 million on 22/23 November 2016 to $32.65 million this year. On 21 November 2017 Christie’s beat its two competitors with sales totalling $16.6 million compared with $11.8 million at Sotheby’s and $4.25 million at Phillips.

There were plenty of works by world famous signatures like Botero and Diego Rivera, particularly at Christie’s, which presented no less than ten Botero works in its catalogue, including two paintings that fetched high prices (The House sold for $912,500 while Man and Horse fetched $792,500).

On the other hand, Sotheby’s had to swallow a major disappointment when its star lot, Diego Rivera’s Retrato de un español, failed to sell within its estimated range of $3 to 5 million. Retrato de un español is a monumental masterpiece that marked the start of Rivera’s Cubist period and was exhibited at the 1912 Salon d’Automne in Paris… it was the most important work of the entire day. However, Sotheby’s fortunately saved the sale from disaster by selling a superb work by the Brazilian artist Emiliano Di Cavalcanti (Reclining nude with fish and fruit,1956) for $1.575 million. This is a new record and the first 7-digit result for ‘Brazil’s top Modern artist’. Sotheby’s also managed to generate a comfortable result for Rufino Tamayo. After a sharp decline in his price index over the past two years, the great Mexican artist has acquired new market momentum with the sale of his canvas Personaje en un interior for nearly $2 million ($1.935 million). Tamayo work was internationally recognised back in the 1940s when his work was exhibited alongside Balthus, Matisse, Miró and Picasso. In the 1950s he was consecrated by the inauguration of a “Tamayo room” at the Venice Biennale and he won first prize at the Sao Paulo Biennial in 1953. This latest 7-digit result is no surprise, especially as Tamayo already reached the same price level in the late 1990s… but it confirms the recent trend.

Although the turnover was relatively meager this year, the results were not worrying. The day was indeed marked by a couple of disappointing failures, but most of the results were conclusive. Works signed Joaquín Torres-García, Roberto Matta, Alfredo Ramos Martínez, Tomás Sánchez, Mario Carreño, David Alfaro Siqueiros and Armando Morales still attract just as much interest from collectors, and some Latin artists are enjoying an exceptional year like the Uruguayan sculptor Pablo Atchugarry for whom 2017 should be a record year in terms of auction turnover. On 21 November, one of his marble sculptures fetched $162,500 at Phillips. In total, Phillips managed to sell 14 works above the $100,000 threshold.

Outside the strict auction market, Latin American art is particularly well supported by the public museum circuit and by private American museums. This year, Miami’s Pérez Art Museum has been promised a donation of $10 million by the collector Jorge M. Pérez as well as 200 works by Cuban artists including Hernan Bas, Carlos Garaicoa and the Los Carpinteros collective. The benefactors of Latin American art are pursuing a wide range of initiatives to raise awareness and gain recognition for art from Central and South America.

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