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Latin American Sale


7 PM, Nov. 21, and 10 AM, Nov., 22, 2000

Sale 9532

Four New World Auction Records for Artists Set


Less Than Half The Lots Sell

"La Danza" by David Alfaro Siqueiros

Lot 29, "La Danza," is a 74 1/2-by-48-inch pyroxilin on masonite by David Alfaro Siqueiros, 1973

By Carter B. Horsley

Latin American art prices have been slowly but steadily climbing but prices for the masters still remain quite undervalued in terms of their quality.

This auction, for example, offers some particularly fine works by Rufino Tamayo (1899-1991) and David Alfaro Siqueiros (1896-1974).

Incredibly, only 43 percent of the lots in the evening auction sold, including many of the best works by the most famous artists with the highest estimates. Although the auction was well-attended, there was very little bidding, either in the room or on the telephone. At a press conference after the auction, Ana Sokoloff, the head of Christie's Latin American Art Department, suggested that the very poor results of the evening auction, which totalled $4,387,050, were not attributable to the quality or the level of estimates, but to "external forces," such as economic conditions and instability in numerous Latin American countries and continuing uncertainty over the American Presidential election. The majority of buyers, she said, were private Latin American collectors. Nonetheless, it was quite extraordinary for so many lots to fail to sell at an important evening auction and the lack of bidding on some of the finest works was particularly puzzling as the estimates were by and large not unreasonable.

Lot 11, "Pájaro agresivo," by Tamayo is a 30 1/8-by-40 1/8-inch oil on canvas executed in 1948 that is an excellent example of the artist's refined style and palette.

The catalogue offers the following commentary:

"Throughout his lengthy career, Tamayo reworked and revisited persistent themes: flight, mechanization, fire, the moon, music, and lovers. Though his extremely personal language evolved over the decades to reflect his current sentiments about the changing world around him these themes persisted. It is difficult to escape the consistent beauty of his paintings yet at a removed distance, viewed successively, they are illustrative of the vicissitudes o the human experience in the twentieth-century. His paintings transcend the boundaries of his nationality and achieve the pan-national. Within an oeuvre that has become recognized to the point of name brand recognition, it is his work from the late 40s and early 50s that stands out even more - in the epoch there is a solid consolidation of concept, style, technique and meaning. His works around this time are the essential Tamayo. In the late 40's and 50s the human figure, from which he infrequently deviated, was conceived in an expressively abstracted mechanical manner. Paintings from these years are characterized by the angular shapes that make up the figure; attenuated and pulled into movement, echoing the unease of a world still reeling from the tragedies of war and the uncertainties of life within the truly mechanized age. World War II left a residue on Tamayo's consciousness; one of the lasting effects of the event that scarred his generation was an obsession with flight. The mass bombings characteristic of the war were presented in many canvases of the following years…. In Pájaro agresivo from 1948 two figures simultaneously flee a flying bird and though the bird itself is not particularly menacing, there is an obvious sense of panic imparted by the upturned arms of the two jaunty figures. The impression of urgency is heightened by the principal figure's proximity to the edge of the canvas; seeming to flee the canvas itself, seeking refuge outside the frame. Though the coloration is subtle, a palpable sense of hysteria is invoked by the acidic pinks and yellows that seep through the subdued gray tones."

It has an estimate of $900,000 to $1,200,000. It was passed at $650,000.

"Dos Amantes contemplando la luna" by Rufino Tamayo

Lot 12, "Dos Amantes contemplando la luna," by Rufino Tamayo, oil on canvas, 1950

Lot 12 is another fine Tamayo, entitled "Dos Amantes contemplando la luna," a 31 7/8-by-39 1/3-inch oil on canvas. Executed in 1950, it has a slightly lower estimate of $800,000 to $1,000,000. It sold on the telephone for $721,000 including the buyer's premium as do all results in this article. The catalogue's commentary notes that while this and Lot 11 share "an unusually subdued" palette, "fear has been replaced by a magnetic mysticism," adding that the figures have a fuller quality and the "lovers are voluptuous, sculptural with rounded, weighty bases that firmly anchor them to earth while their arms reach up to embrace the hangnail moon, a sliver of desirable light hovering above." The painting "reveals the quiet joy of sharing" and "resonates with intimacy and a serene delicacy," it continued.

"Dos personages" by Rufino Tamayo

Lot 36, "Dos personages," oil on canvas, by Rufino Tamayo, 1968

In vivid contrast is Lot 36, another Tamayo, entitled "Dos personages," a 38 3/8-by-51 1/8-inch oil on canvas painted in 1968. With its strong yellow background and intense palette, this is a very strong work and was exhibited at the Phillips Collection retrospective exhibition on the artist in 1978 and was once in the collection of Harry Abrams. It has a very conservative estimate of $300,000 to $400,000. It sold to an American dealer for $336,000.

One of the star lots at the Sotheby's Latin American sale the evening before this sale was a large "watermelon" painting by Tamayo. It, in fact, was the cover illustration of that auction's catalogue. Lot 20, "Sandias II, is a 32-by-39 1/2-inch oil and sand on canvas by the artist that was executed in 1963. It has an estimate of $500,000 to $700,000. It was passed at $380,000. Like the lot at Sotheby's, (see The City Review article for an illustration," Tamayo has abstracted the watermelons and has them float in space. In this smaller work, there are fewer melons and they are more fully depicted than in the work at Sotheby's, but the overall effect remains of sumptuous, all-enveloping, juicy color.

"Imagen en un espejo" by Rufino Tamayo

Lot 48, "Imagen en un espejo," by Rufino Tamayo, a 31 5/8-by-23 3/4-inch oil and sand on canvas, 1973

Tamayo works well on smaller scales as evidended by Lot 48, "Imagen en un espejo," a 31 5/8-by-23 3/4-inch oil and sand on canvas that was executed in 1973. A seeming simple abstract portrait within a window with a slingshot-looking object in the foreground, it is an absorbing study of a quixotic expression gazing directly at the viewer through a window in a highly-textured and colorful wall. It has a conservative estimate of $120,000 to $160,000 and has much of the charm of a good Paul Klee and the mysterious power of a good, small Picasso portrait. It sold for $154,500.

Lot 28, "Monumento a el héroe desconocido," is a 80-inch high sculpture of steel with a unique patina, that was executed in 1989 as one of eight commissioned by GVG Editions of Monterrey, Mexico. The sculptures were published in editions of three, each with different patinas. The catalogue quotes a 1990 article by Edward Sullivan that notes that "as is often the case in his paintings, Tamayo uses crushed marble in conjunction with other properties to form the richness of the surface," adding that this work was "one of the most haunting" of the series and that "Essentially done in the form of a funerary memorial, this work features an abstracted head set upon a base of repeated geometric shapes."

Tamayo's sculptures have not fared as well as they should in recent actions and this strong lot has an estimate of $125,000 to $175,000. It was passed at $95,000.

Lot 29, "La Danza," is a 74 1/2-by-48-inch pyroxilin on masonite by Siqueiros, shown at the top of this article, that was painted in 1973 and has a modest estimate of $140,000 to $180,000. It was passed at $95,000. This is a very exciting work that conjures Joseph Stella's great abstractions of the Brooklyn Bridge. Siqueiros is an uneven artist but at his best he is extremely painterly and capable of very tight and impressive compositions. Energy bursts from his canvases and the market has not yet properly evaluated him. Another work in the day part of this auction, Lot 111, "El Volcán," is even more explosive, appropriately for its subject matter of a volcano, and has a modest estimate of only $40,000 to $60,000. The better works of Siqueiros have the emotional impact of the German Expressionists and the wildness of the Fauves and the abstract expressionism of good Hans Hofmanns and are among the most powerful of modern paintings.

Matta (b. 1911) is the third Olympian Latin American artist whose oeuvre transcends mere geographic locations. Although he has been very prolific and an ceaseless experimenter, his best works, many of which date to the late 1930s, combine Surrealism with High-Tech in his visionary environments of glaring color and strange forms. He was psychedelic long before the wild 60's and even when he misses somewhat his compositions are startling and memorable, despite some garish, neon-like work. Lot 37, "Let any Flowers bloom," a 78 3/8-by-118-inch oil on canvas, painted in 1952, might well be a DNA study of chlorophyll fending off pesky, bloodthirsty insects. The right half of the picture is painted in mostly greens and whites and has a ghostly, underwater appearance with fine luminosity while the left side of the large work is somewhat of an energized Wilfredo Lam abstraction with many "light" pipes in geometric dances. The past few seasons have seen a lot of Mattas appear on the market with mixed results and this has a very conservative estimate of $120,000 to $160,000. It sold for $215,000. This work would seem to be most fitting for the grand lobby of a nuclear power plant.

Untitled by Matta

Lot 23, untitled painting by Matta, circa 1965

Lot 23, an untitled work of circa 1965, is even bigger, 78 3/4 by 150 inches, and is not quite as successful a composition despite its higher estimate of $200,000 to $250,000 as it seems to depict a vignette of some sci-fi war in a narrative fashion that is not as abstract as Lot 137, albeit just as dramatic. Lot 23 was passed at $170,000.

Yet another Matta, Lot 30, "Ciudad cosmica," a 45 1/4-by-57 1/8-nch oil on canvas is a quieter work depicting some "Cosmic City," but it seems to lack some of this master's incredible energy and wild colors. It was painted in 1960 and has a slightly ambitious estimate of $150,000 to $180,000. It was passed at $110,000.

Wilfredo Lam (1902-1982) is another giant of Latin American Art whose biomorphic abstractions are lovely and intriguing. Lot 24 is an untitled oil on canvas, 49 7/8 by 43 1/2 inches and was painted in 1960. It has an estimate of $200,000 to $220,000 and is part of the artist's "Femme Cheval" series in which a mulatta woman is seen as a "monster" that, according to the catalogue, "combines the sensuality of the mixed races with the African magic of spirit possession, an integral part of the Santeira rituals." "The possessed during these dance rituals," the catalogue continued, "are usually referred to as 'horses' that carry the particular deity that manifests itself through the temporary possession of their human body." It was passed at $190,000.

Lot 32, "Nina comiendo cana," is a 29 7/8-by -23 3/4-inch oil on canvas painted by Diego Rivera (1886-1957) in 1945. It has a somewhat ambitious estimate of $600,000 to $800,000. It was passed at $380,000.

"Girl Combing Her Hair" by Candido Portinari

Lot 17, "Girl Combing Her Hair," by Candido Portinari, oil on canvas, 28 5/8 by 23 1/2 inches, 1941

Lot 17, "Girl combing her hair," by Candido Portinari (1903-1962) is the catalogue's cover illustration and a very beautiful painting of which Picasso might be proud. The 28 5/8-by-23 1/2-inch oil on canvas has an estimate of $800,000 to $1,000,000. It was passed at $600,000. It was painted in 1941 and was formerly in the collection of Helena Rubinstein, the cosmetics entrepreneur who was also a very important art collector and would own nine paintings by the artist.

The catalogue notes that Portinari was the son of humble Italian immigrants to Brazil "who slept in the bathtub of a rooming huse in order to attend the National School of Fine Arts in Rio de Janiero from which he eventually won the European study prize and spent a few years in Paris in Europe, returning to Brazil in 1932. The catalogue continues with the following commentary:

"In Portinari's work of the 30s and 40s the common man takes center stage. In his paintings hands and feet are disproportionately large, emphasizing the role of the laborer. Girl coming her hair is an exemplative painting from the period, as well as the large hand, color and form are simple and strong. The volume of her form has an impressive magnitude, a grounding in the base of the canvas, and there is a true dignity in the girl's gesture. The mulata, emblematic of the mixture of races that is so integral to Brazil, has clothing simplified to a patternless drape of grey, her flesh gives the painting its warmth; it is a pink darkened both by shadow and mixed race, her curly hair gives movement and life, and the sharp angles and bright color of the comb a firm line. She is young and somehow lovely, yet her face is marked by a resigned sadness and questioning quality….Girl combing her hair embodies what is best about Portinari's work in this, his most important period of production; a remarkably simple composition, yet emotive and powerful, his economy has spoken volumes about his subject, about Brazil. Works such as Girl combing her hair would influence generations of Brazilian artists that continued to look at their lives and realities."

"Caballo" by Fernando Botero

Lot 21, "Caballo," bronze sculpture, by Fernando Botero, 1985

There are several works by Fernando Botero (b. 1932), the best of which is Lot 21, a very lovely bronze sculpture of a saddled horse with a lustrous dark patina, which was executed in 1985 in an edition of six. The lot has an estimate of $250,000 to $350,000. It sold for $259,000.

"Ventana V" by Guillermo Munoz Vera

Lot 44, "Ventana V," by Guillermo Munoz Vera, 48 by 70 7/8 inches, oil and acrylic on canvas, 1999

One of the most beautiful paintings in the evening auction is Lot 44, "Ventana V," a 48-by-70 7/8-inch oil and acrylic on canvas by Guillermo Munoz Vera (b. 1956). The work, which was painted in 1999, has the bright clarity of the work of Claudio Bravo but here the influence is more from Vermeer as the painting has an open, shuttered window on the left that illuminates a blue room and casts the shadows of outdoor foliage through the window onto the center wall. This is a very strong and evocative and beautiful work and has a somewhat conservative estimate of $60,000 to $80,000. It sold for $70,500.

A marvelous geometric abstraction by Gunther Gerzso (1915-2000) is offered as Lot 27. The 21 1/4-by-28 1/2-inch oil on masonite was executed in 1973 and has a modest estimate of $60,000 to $80,000. It was passed at $55,000.

"La expedicion de Aqua Aurea" by Remedios Varo

Lot 31, "La expedicion de Aqua Aurea," by Remedios Varo, 48 1/8 by 23 5/8 inches, oil on masonite, 1962

Surrealism is a significant component of much Latin American Art and Remedios Varo (1900-1963) is one of its best practitioners and Lot 31 is one of the artist's more charming works. Painted in 1962, the 48 1/8-by-23 5/8-inch oil on masonite is entitled "La expedicion de Aqua Aurea" and has an ambitious estimate of $700,000 to $900,000. It was passed at $450,000.

Lot 26, "Mulher deitada com peixes e fruias," a 43 1/4 by 76 3/4 inch oil on canvas by Emiliano di Cavalcanti (1897-1976), was executed in 1956. It is estimated at $800,000 to $1,000,000. It sold for $886,000, breaking the artist's world auction record of $138,000 set at Christie's last June 1.

Lot 35, "Plano de Juchitán," a large oil on canvas by Francisco Toledo, executed circa 1961, has an estimate of $500,000 to $700,000. It sold for $446,000, breaking the world auction record for the artist of $387,500 set at Sotheby's Nov. 15, 1994.

Lot 4, "En el camerin," by Valentin Thibon de Libian established a world auction record for the artist of $193,000.

Lot 33, "Extasis," by Roberto Diago, sold for $94,000, breaking the artist's world auction record of $20,700 set in January, 1999.


See The City Review article on the Fall 2000 Latin American Art auction at Sotheby's

See The City Review article on the spring Latin American Art auction at Sotheby's

See The City Review article on the Spring 2000 Latin American Art auction at Christie's

See The City Review article on the Fall 1999 Latin American Art auction at Sotheby's

See The City Review article on the Spring, 1999 Latin American Art auction at Sotheby's

See The City Review article on The Latin American Sale at Christie's in New York in June, 1999

Recap of Pre-Columbian Art auction at Sotheby's, Nov. 23, 1998


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