Latin American Contemporary artists

[27 Apr 2012]


Another Friday Top. Every fortnight Artprice posts a theme-based auction ranking. This week: the top ten auction results in 2011 for Contemporary Latin American artists.

The South American continent is home to a rich emerging scene, increasingly recognized internationally. While numerous collectors, private foundations, museums and artists from the zone have emerged in recent years, it is no coincidence that the major auction houses have organised specialized sales of Latin American art (since 2009 at Phillips de Pury & Company and 2010 at Sotheby’s). The vitality of Contemporary artists in the region, added to the growing global interest of amateur and professional art collectors, has no doubt contributed to the auction records signed in 2011.
Given the abundance and dynamism of artists from the region, which artistic generations prevail, and which countries stand out?
This week’s Top reveals that 3 of the four artists present are from the same generation. Born between 1957 and 1964, these three artists created 9 of the 10 most expensive works by Contemporary Latin American artists in 2011. Brazil, with its extraordinary artistic production and its fast emerging economy, is the big winner in this ranking: of the 4 artists, three are Brazilian and two of these posted new records in 2011: Adriana VAREJAO and Cildo MEIRELES. As for the best result of the Top, it reflects the astonishing rise of Adriana Varejao, who in addition to a first place achieved with a 7-figure result, occupies the 5th, 6th, 8th and 10th places.

Top ten auction results in 2011 for Contemporary Latin American artists

Rank Artist Hammer Price Artwork Sale
1 Adriana VAREJAO $1527980 Parede com Incisoes a la Fontana II (Wall with Incisions a la Fontana II) (2001) 02/16/2011 (Christie’s LONDON)
2 Felix GONZALEZ-TORRES $1400000 Untitled (Aparicion) (1991) 05/10/2011 (Sotheby’s NY)
3 Beatriz MILHAZES $957840 “O Moderno” (2002) 06/27/2011 (Phillips de Pury & Company LONDON)
4 Beatriz MILHAZES $488070 “Eu só queria entender por que ele fez isso (I just wanted to understan (1989) 04/14/2011 (Phillips de Pury & Company LONDON)
5 Adriana VAREJAO $480000 Ambiente Virtual II (2001) 11/14/2011 (Phillips de Pury & Company LONDON)
6 Adriana VAREJAO $450000 Paisagem II (1997) 05/26/2011 (Christie’s NY)
7 Cildo MEIRELES $430000 In-Mensa (1982) 05/25/2011 (Sotheby’s NY)
8 Adriana VAREJAO $351582 Tea and Tiles (1995-96) 06/29/2011 (Sotheby’s LONDON)
9 Felix GONZALEZ-TORRES $351000 Untitled (1995) 09/21/2011 (Christie’s NY)
10 Adriana VAREJAO $298908 Pele (Skin) (1996) 10/14/2011 (Christie’s LONDON)

Adriana Varejao

Drawing on the immense diversity of Brazil’s cultural, colonial, theatrical, architectural and natural resources, the work of Adriana VAREJAO (born 1964) questions the way Brazil’s history is presented and undermines its prevailing myths. The traditional dimension of her work embodies the complexity of Brazilian identity and its multi-faceted culture.
She became known in the mid-90s with her paintings imitating blue and white azulejos tiles, a traditional form of painting on porcelain imported by the Portuguese to Brazil during the colonization. But she gave another dimension to this traditional art form by using canvas as though it were a tiled surface and adding some kind of visceral element of cold flesh. Her current record is a fine example: Parede com Incisões a la Fontana II (Wall with Incisions a la Fontana II) depicts a wall of yellowed tiles with Fontana-like incisions revealing flesh. By finding a buyer at $1.5 m (16 February 2011 at Christie’s in London), the work more than tripled its high estimate.
Varejao’s market is still relatively small, but she is certainly not unknown: her first auction above $100,000 was generated in 2007 by Pele tatouada a moda de azulejaria (skin tattooed in the manner of tiles) which fetched $170,000 at Christie’s New York (19 November 2007). In fact, since the 1990s, Adriana Varejao has managed to export and impose her work slowly but surely on the international stage through regular exhibitions in Europe, the United States and Japan and at numerous galleries and prestigious institutions. Her official consecration came in 2008 when her country dedicating a permanent pavilion at the Inhotim Centre of Contemporary Art in Sao Paulo to her work. Since 2008, her lowest auction result has been $15,000 for a photograph entitled Mélée de guerrier nus de Etienne Delann at Phillips de Pury & Company, New York on 17 December 2010 despite the fact that photographs are her least popular medium. 2011 was an exceptional year for Adriana Varejao and, in auction revenue terms, she was Latin America’s most sought-after artist with only 5 results – all above $190,000 – including her handsome 7-figure result for Parede com Incisões à la Fontana II … stay tuned in 2012!

Felix Gonzalez-Torres

The short career of this Cuban artist who died of AIDS in 1996 (1957-1996) was more than prolific. His intimate works combining personal experiences and reflections on art history has indelibly marked the art world. Starting his career in the 1980s, his work is closely related to the appearance of AIDS. His work was essentially “conceptual” in style, but he managed to instil a dose of humanity into what is often regarded as a hermetic discipline by questioning the fragility of life and of art in a poetic and sensitive manner. Regularly using everyday objects (mirrors, lights, candy, paper, etc.) as a starting point, his work exploited a wide range of media. Felix Gonzales-Torres is a classic example of an artist who became famous posthumously; his first auction results were generated in the year of his death by photographs that immediately fetched above $4,700. In 1998, his famous Untitled, Rossmore, a candy installation inviting visitors to eat, already crossed the $100,000 threshold (Christie’s, London, 22 April 1998). Emblematic of his work, Untitled, Rossmore expresses the fragility of artworks and echoes the notion of disease contamination. Since the early 2000s, the artist’s key works regularly generate very strong results, so it is no coincidence that we find Untitled (Aparicion) in the 2nd place of this Top. Although his best 2011 result of $1.4m (8 November, Sotheby’s, New York) is far below his record $4 million signed in 2010 for Untitled (Portrait of Marcel Brient) (8 November, Phillips de Pury & Company, New York), it nevertheless ranks as his third best result. All eight of his works that went to auction in 2011 found buyers, confirming the stability of his market.

Beatriz Milhazes

The paintings of Beatriz Milhazes (1960) are full of colour and decorative patterns that have an undeniably Brazilian flavour. To her various inspirations, from the first abstract painters (Frantisek KUPKA, Wassily KANDINSKY, Sonia DELAUNAY-TERK, etc.) to the intense colours of Henri Matisse and the structured compositions of Piet MONDRIAAN, she adds the classical and popular traditions of her native country (ceramics, jewellery, lace, baroque architecture, bossa nova, etc.) … As for lush vegetation, the artist’s real fascination, she expresses herself with arabesques of flowers and tropical plants everywhere in her work. While paintings account for the bulk of her work, Beatriz Milhazes also uses other techniques such as collage, engraving and her technique inspired by the very singular decalcomania (she applies paint to transparent plastic films and adheres the colours to the canvas by removing the film).
Like Adriana Varejao, Beatriz Milhazes emerged on the art market in the late 90s. However, she has had a denser auction presence than her compatriot with70 works offered for sale compared with 33 for Varejao. Although she has not yet generated 7-figure results, her sales are regular and she already has 27 results above $100,000 to her name, with an auction debut above this threshold in 2005 for Romantico Americano which fetched $111,000 at Christie’s in London (9 February 2005). The energy and explosive colours of her paintings are well represented in this Top by two of her works which take third and fourth place: O Moderno fetched $958,000 at Phillips de Pury & Company’s London branch on 27 June 2011, and on 14 April, Eu só queria entender por que ele fez isso (I just wanted to understand why he did that which sold for $488,000 at the same auctioneer, again in London.

Cildo Meireles

Born in 1948, this Brazilian artist establishes a connection between the generation of artists born in the 1960s that has gained a prominent place in the global art market and the more intimist artists born around the 1920s and 30s who were proponents of neo-concretism that Miereles later developed (movement initiated in the late 50s by Lygia CLARK, Hélio OITICICA, Lygia PAPE). Known for his disturbing installations and sculptures, most of which tend to express a poetic mockery of consumer society, the art world and politics, his works, often huge and dense, encourage viewer interaction and evoke some of our deepest fears (the dark, gas, barbed wire, etc.). He emerged in the 1970s after creating installations with a profoundly political and militant message against the Brazilian dictatorship then in power (1964-1985). For example, for the Sao Paulo Biennale in 1981, he created La Bruja 1, a sea of 2,500 km of string that phagocytes the space and clings to visitor’s feet. Although his market has been relatively restricted, it showed signs of accelerating in 2011 when no less than 17 of his works were sold on the secondary, that is, almost as many as over the three previous years (1997-2010). Of these 17 works, two beat his record held since 2008 for Coracao Faquir (a heart like a faquir’s rug with up-turned nails) that was acquired for $160,000 at Sotheby’s New York on 18 November 2008: Art Market Confidence Index generated his latest record and gave him 7th place in this Top with a hammer price of $430,000 (Sotheby’s New York, May 25). As for his second best result of $ 237,000 for Jogo de Velha seri C 8A (Tic-Tac-Toe Serie C 8A (Christie’s London, 14 September 2011), it illustrates the growing auction attraction of this artist since two works from the same series with the same dimensions fetched $80,000 and $140,000 in 2009.

Little by little, Latin American Contemporary art seems to be gaining the momentum it deserves on the global art market. Most of these artists, already widely acclaimed by prestigious institutions (Tate, MoMA, Guggenheim, etc.) and major events (biennials, art fairs, etc.) saw their markets accelerate in 2011. Substantially supported by the market’s public and private sectors, this vast region, with its diverse and abundant art scene, is still a long way from having revealed its full potential.