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The top Latin American artists at auction

[21 Jul 2017]

Discover the best sales every Friday! Every other Friday, Artprice posts a theme-based auction ranking. Let’s take a look at the best sales of the last twelve months for South American contemporary artists.

The South American artists’ market remains concentrated in New York, thanks to the specialised sales organised annually by Christie’s, Sotheby’s and Phillips. The Top Sales indeed all took place in New York, with the exception of an Oscar Murillo sale at a prestigious contemporary art auction organised by Sotheby’s in London. But Oscar Murillo is an exception, a market phenomenon, who has made a name for himself outside of sales dedicated to Latin American artists. The demand for his work is even higher as this artist is represented by the renowned gallery owner David Swirner, like another artist in our Top results: Felix Gonzalez-Torres, who dominates this year’s ranking.

Rank Artist Hammer Price ($) Artwork Sale
1 Felix GONZALEZ-TORRES (1957-1996) 912 500 Untitled (Last Light) 18/11/2016 Sotheby’s New York NY
2 Felix GONZALEZ-TORRES (1957-1996) 607 500 Untitled (March 5th) #2 18/05/2017 Christie’s New York NY
3 Guillermo David KUITCA (1961) 511 500 Deng Haag – Praha 22/11/2016 Christie’s New York NY
4 Pablo ATCHUGARRY (1954) 439 500 Untitled 22/11/2016 Christie’s New York NY
5 Gabriel OROZCO (1962) 367 500 Samurai Tree (Invariant #9) 16/11/2016 Christie’s New York NY
6 Felix GONZALEZ-TORRES (1957-1996) 348 500 Untitled 19/05/2017 Sotheby’s New York NY
7 Tomás SANCHEZ (1948) 319 500 Meditación bajo un signo de aguas 22/11/2016 Christie’s New York NY
8 OS GEMEOS (1974) 310 000 Untitled 22/11/2016 Phillips New York NY
9 Tomás SANCHEZ (1948) 271 500 Meditador entre aguas 24/05/2017 Christie’s New York NY
10 Oscar MURILLO (1986) 250 072 Night Shift 07/10/2016 Sotheby’s London
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David Zwirner’s artists

Our ranking shows the potential of a Cuban artist rarely seen in the auction market: Felix Gonzalez-Torres holds three of the Top 10 results in the contemporary South American artists list, although only six lots of his were available this year. The good results obtained at auction put the spotlight on an emblematic artist, not from the South American scene itself (he emigrated to the United States in 1968 as a political refugee and died in Miami in 1996) but as an activist whose generosity and poetic work had a strong influence on the art world at the end of the 20th century. His emblematic works, derived from the Piles series made of piles of sweets, have been highly valued in the recent past. On 10th November 2015, Christie’s obtained a record price of $7.669 m for one of his installations consisting of sweets placed on the ground. Although his work is rare at auction, two major works became available in the past 12 months: Untitled (Last Light), a vertical memorial consisting of light bulbs sold for $912,500 on November 18th, 2016 at Sotheby’s. Six months later, a work in the same vein, Untitled (March 5th) #2, made up of two illuminated light bulbs, sold for $607,500 at Christie’s. Buyers are even keener due to the short supply. Recent events are expected to improve the circulation of the artists’ work: following the announcement of the co-representation of the artist’s estate by David Zwirner and Andrea Rosen, David Zwirner devoted a first exhibition to the artist at his new gallery from 27th April to 14th July 2017.

Unlike the positive results obtained at auction after Felix Gonzalez-Torres’ premature death, the young Oscar Murillo has been catapulted into the auction rooms even before his 30th birthday. Born in Colombia in 1986 and now a British citizen, Oscar Murillo is a text-book case and his work has seen an impressive surge in prices. Only a few months after graduating from London’s Royal College of Art in 2012, he become a phenomenon thanks to a strong network created in record time. He was the toast of the London and New York’s contemporary art scene in 2013: 24 paintings and a sculpture all sold, without a single sales failure. Murillo has become the artist of the moment at auction. His flamboyant early career was confirmed in September 2013, when he joined the David Zwirner Gallery. The impact of this news was immediate in the auction rooms: on September 19th, 2013, Phillips sold Untitled (Drawings off the wall) for $401,000 in New York, 10 times the high estimate, setting a record so far unmatched. 2013 marked a speculation climax, when 19 works by Murillo passed the $100,000 mark. Three years later, his annual sales revenue has collapsed from $3.96 million to $422,000 (in 2016), marking a profound change in business strategy as his representatives now prefer direct sales rather than auctions. The number of lots offered in auction rooms has also been halved in two years (June 2014-June 2015 v. June 2016-June 2017). Honoured by many important exhibitions, including one at MoMA (Forever now: painting in the new millenium) and another at the Venice Biennale in 2015, his latest work is being shown in France as part of L’Année France-Colombie 2017. The artist has a joint exhibition at the CAPC in Bordeaux (May 18th to August 27th, 2017) and at the Jeu de Paume in Paris (Oscar Murillo. Estructuras resonantes, from June 13th to September 24th 2017).

Solid odds

Less well known on the international scene, the Cuban painter Tomás Sanchez is nevertheless in high demand. For the past decade, his best landscapes have been sold for several hundred thousand dollars in major New York sales venues. The artist’s record sale this year was $348,500, but his absolute record is $653,000 obtained in 2014 for a large oil on canvas of 1995, Meditador y laguna escondida en el bosque sold by Sotheby’s. His prices continue to rise rapidly, with a 327% increase since 2000. In addition to the confirmation of a powerful demand for typical Cuban work through landscape painting, our Top 10 reveals three new absolute records: the first for the Argentine painter Guillermo David Kuitca (with Deng Haag-Praha sold for $511,500), the second for Uruguayan sculptor Pablo Atchugarry, whose marble went through the roof at $439,500, largely double the estimate, on November 22nd, 2016 at Christie’s. The same day, Philips obtained another record with the Os Gemeos brothers (Otavio and Gustavo Pandolfo). The most popular Brazilian graffiti artists indeed reached $310,000.

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