Buoyant Latin American art Sales

[29 Nov 2016]

Just a few weeks back Phillips in New York celebrated two new records at $970,000 for Carmen Herrera and Mira Schendel reflecting a Latin American art market that seems to have the wind in its sails. This positive signal came just a few days before the major Latin American Art sales in New York on 22 and 23 November.

The two days of specialised sales at Christie’s, Sotheby’s and Phillips offered an exceptionally broad range (525 lots in total) of the best Modern and Contemporary Latin American signatures including top names like Fernando Botero, Roberto Matta, Armando Morales, Rufino Tamayo, Diego Rivera, José Clemente Orozco, Wifredo Lam, and a large selection of emerging signatures, particularly from Cuba. In total the sales generated nearly $48 million with Sotheby’s and Christie’s generating respectively $21 million and $22.7 million and Phillips posting $4.1 million. According to Christie’s, its sale attracted bidders from 36 countries proving that demand for this market segment has become truly globalized.

Rufino Tamayo, the most sought-after

At both Christie’s and Sotheby’s, the best results were hammered for Rufino TAMAYO (1899-1991) with similar subjects at both auctioneers: Sandias (watermelons) at Christie’s fetching $2.16 million and a still-life entitled Sandías y naranja (1957) beating its high estimate by nearly half a million ($2.29 million) at Sotheby’s. In 1997, Christie’s sold this 1957 painting of three slices of watermelon for just under $500,000, a good deal at the time since the work has multiplied its value by 4.6 times in 20 years.

Rufino Tamayo was one of the great Mexican artists (along with Rivera, Siqueiros and Orozco) who achieved international recognition during his lifetime, particularly in New York in the 1920s. In the 1940s he was sufficiently influential to be exhibited alongside Balthus, Matisse, Miró and Picasso, and in the 1950s, after being honoured with a “Tamayo room” at the Venice Biennale he received the top prize at the Sao Paulo Biennial (1953). Tamayo’s market has always been dynamic, mainly in New York. His best paintings already fetched several hundred thousand dollars 25 years ago and his prices rocketed in 2008 (with two new records: $6.8 million for America (1955) and $7.2 million for Trovador [1945]), then contracted, before gradually regaining 28% since 2010.

The best results

Christie’s generated nine new records included three for Pablo Atchugarry, Guillermo Kuitca and Esterio Segura and six new records for Cuban artists. There was also an excellent result for Sergio DE CAMARGO (1930-1990) who has regularly generated some of the best results over the last five or six years. His Untitled (Relief No. 325) went for $1.5 million at Sotheby’s, one of his ten best auction results. Another star signature at the sales was Joaquín TORRES GARCÍA (1874-1949) who reached $775,500 at Sotheby’s for his Port of New York dated 1923. The painting by Uruguay’s most famous Modern artist bears witness to his Constructive Universalist style and his interest in the European avant-garde.

The most ‘anticipated’ work in the sales was a Frida KAHLO portrait, Niña con collar (Girl with a necklace) at Sotheby’s that was rediscovered last summer after hanging for decades in a Californian home. Frida Kahlo was 20 when she painted this hieratic and colorful portrait evoking the stature of Byzantine icons. Apparently Diego Rivera himself gave the work in 1955 to a woman who helped Frida in her studio. As Frida Kahlo is the rarest and most emblematical signature of the Mexican scene (only 21 of her paintings have been auctioned in 30 years), the painting fetched over $1.8 million, within its estimated range.

Fernando BOTERO was also very successful at these sales generating several million-plus results with paintings and sculptures, as was Diego RIVERA with a Cubist landscape Paisaje cerca de toledo (1913) fetching $1.2 million (within its estimate) at Sotheby’s and a Retrato de Marevna (Portrait of Marevna) (1916) generating the best result at Phillips ($970,000).

Strong demand for Cuban artists…

The diplomatic rapprochement between the United States and Cuba has focused attention on the Cuban scene whose Modern and Contemporary artists are increasingly present at New York sales. Christie’s offered a selection of Cuban works from a private collection that generated six new records for Mariano Rodriguez (1912-1990), Fidelio Ponce de León (1895-1949), Carlos Enríquez (1900-1957), René Portocarrero (1912-1985), Victor Manuel (1897-1969) and Domingo Ramos (1894-1956). Indeed, the Cuban section of the sale was highly successful with Mariano RODRIGUEZ Pelea de gallos fetching a little over a million dollars. Several works largely exceeded their estimates, including Carlos ENRIQUEZ GOMEZ’s Héroe criollo which fetched $967,500, more than double its low estimate. Meanwhile, Phillips decided to focus on some of Cuba’s founding artists including Mario Carreño, Loló Soldevilla, Sandú Darié, Jose Mijares, Pedro Oraá, Salvador Corratgé, José Rosabal and Manuel MENDIVE. The famous Tania BRUGUERA was also represented with a large photograph (ed. 5/10) from her El Peso de culpa performance that fetched $12,500.

The closer US/Cuba relations are encouraging investors, while Cuba’s artistic collectives and galleries are multiplying their efforts. These include La Fabrique d’Arts Cubains (FAC) a multidisciplinary cultural center created in 2014 by the Cuban artist Kcho and the opening of a branch of the Continua Gallery in Havana which in recent months has presented works by Pistoletto, Daniel Buren, Pascale Marthine Tayou and Kader Attia… Cuba’s radiance is definitely intensifying, despite fears voiced by some that the end of Cuba’s exceptional regime might remove a source of inspiration for its artists.