Latin American Autumn

[03 Nov 2015]


New York’s sales of Latin American art are an important part of the annual auction calendar and are faithfully orchestrated by Phillips, Sotheby’s and Christie’s every year. This year, the LatAm sales will take place on 18, 19 and 20 November and the auctioneers will no doubt have noticed the growing interest of major American and European museums for the Latin American art scene. Indeed, in recent years, the “acquisition phase” has accelerated and Latin American artists have enjoyed a growing number of important exhibitions such as the major retrospective of Wifredo Lam’s work currently showing at the Centre Pompidou in Paris (30 September – 15 February 2016) that will move next year to the Centro de Arte Reina Sofia in Madrid (12 April – 15 August 2016) and then the Tate Modern in London (14 September 2016 – 8 January 2017).
Besides Lam, the Modern LatAm signatures most sought-after by museums and collectors are Rufino Tamayo, Joaquin Torres-Garcia, Leonora Carrington and Roberto Matta. Works by the latter were much in evidence at the Paris art fairs during October (a sure sign of a revival in market interest). Through artists like Carrington, Lam and particularly Matta, the Latin American Surrealist movement is currently refreshing its place in museums … and the art market.

Roberto MATTA in strong demand

Matta is the best represented artist in Christie’s sale with twelve works in the catalogue. The bidding will start at $50,000 for a drawing and for several oil paintings from the 1950s and 1970s. His most expensive work is also the oldest: a 1939 painting which having failed to sell at Sotheby’s in 2013 (against a low estimate of $800,000) is now being offered with a more modest low estimate of around $500,000.
At Sotheby’s, all eyes will be on Matta’s Le Lit du printemps (estimated $500,000 – 700,000) and his Geyser de la mémoire (estimated $200,000 – 300,000), a work already auctioned in Paris in March 2012 where it fetched $166,050 (27 March 2012 at Camard). Two months after that result Matta generated his all-time auction record when La Révolte des contraires (1944) fetched $5 million (incl. fees) – i.e. twice its high estimate – at Christie’s in New York. However, Matta’s auction success is not new; he generated his first million-dollar results back in the mid-90s.

A good year for Wifredo Lam

With plenty of recent museum exposure, Wifredo LAM is particularly well represented at the auction sales this year. On 19 November, Sotheby’s will be offering two major works: Le Miel noir, an oil on canvas from 1945, estimated at between $600,000 and 800,000, and Les Sabots à la main, a 1966 canvas earmarked at $500,000 to $700,000. On the basis of its new estimate, the value of Les Sabots à la main has doubled in seven years (the work fetched $297,000 incl. fees on 3 December 2008 at Sotheby’s in Paris). That kind of inflation is reserved for his best works and the context is undoubtedly favourable, particularly after two of his works have crossed the million-dollar threshold this year. Meanwhile, Christie’s will be offering seven of his works (estimates start at $30,000 for small oils from the early 70s) and Phillips has a good painting that is expected to generate between $400,000 and $600,000.
In fact, Wifredo Lam, a key figure in the LatAm scene and much admired by his friend Pablo Picasso, is currently enjoying a substantial boom, without showing any signs of speculative excess. This is also what makes his market attractive, particularly as 60% of his works sell for under $5,000 and the majority of his better pastels and watercolours change hands for between $10,000 and $20,000.

Leonora Carrington joins the soaring prices

Last year Sotheby’s enjoyed a superb result from its New York LatAm sale by auctioning the largest collection of Latin American art ever offered for public sale, that of Lorenzo H. Zambrano, a Mexican entrepreneur and former Chairman and CEO of Cemex. That sale (on 24 November 2014) generated a superb auction record of $2.629 million for The temptation of St. Anthony by the great Mexican Surrealist Leonora CARRINGTON. This year, Sotheby’s has another Carrington masterpiece that could fetch a top price: La Jungle (Juggler) (1954) is estimated at between $1.5 and 2 million. Sotheby’s has devoted four pages of its catalogue to this museum-worthy masterpiece. A sure sign that prices are gathering momentum: the same Jungle was worth $713,000 in 2008 (Christie’s sale of 28 May), almost a third of the today’s high estimate.