evening auction of Latin American Art at Christie's May 28, 2003
is highlighted by several very fine large works by Matta, two
very good works by Diego Rivera, a self-portrait by Frida Kahlo,
several nice paintings by Wilfredo Lam, a nice work by Leonora
Carrington, a very beautiful early painting by Gunther Gerszo,
a superb painting by Armando Morales, and two hilarious works
by Nelson Leirner.
Lot 25 is
a strong but small "Self-Portrait with Curly Hair" by
Frida Kahlo (1910-1954). Executed in 1935, the 7 1/4-by-5 3/4-inch
oil on tin has an estimate of $1,500,000 to $2,000,000. It
sold for $1,351,500 including the buyer's premium as do all results
mentioned in this article. The record of more than $5 million
for a Kahlo self-portrait was set May 31, 2000 at Sotheby's. It
was considerably larger than this one. (See The
City Review article
on that auction.)
portion of this auction totalled $4,816,598 and 71 percent of
the 56 offered lots were sold, about the same level as in the
Spring of 2003, but still indicative of a selective and not terribly
strong Latin American art market. The pre-sale low estimate for
the evening sale was $6,471,000 and the high estimate was $8,373,000.
Many of those attending the auction broke out with applause when
the Kahlo was sold.
set six records for individual contemporary artists.
entry for the Kahlo notes that the work has some of the "simplicity
and native charm of 19th Century Mexican folk portraits by artists
such as José Maria Estrada and Hermenegildo Bustos - both
of whom Frida Kahlo and her husband Diego Rivera greatly admired."
"The self-portrait's strange intensity suggests another source
as well: Frida's face has the imperturbable but searching look
of Fayum portrait panels placed on the outside of
cloth-wrapped mummies in the 2nd Century A.D. Also like the Fayum
portraits is the way Kahlo painted the white highlights in the
eyes, the individual eyelashes, and the outline aound the check
and jaw. In spite of its modest size, Kahlo's self portrait...packs
a strong visual punch....The year she painted Self-Portrait
with Curly Hair was one of the worst in Kahlo's life. The
previous year was miserable too. In 1934 she produced no paintings
at all, and the only other work from 1935 is the gruesome A
Few Small Nips, a panel showing a woman stabbed to death by
caused Kahlo's artistic paralysis in the period following her
and Rivera's return to Mexico from the United States in December
1933 was marital anguish. Sick and depressed, Rivera was unable
to work, and he blamed Frida for insisting that they leave New
York. She was hospitalized at least three times in 1934, once
for appendicitis, once for a therapeutic abortion and a third
time for an operation on her right foot. It was probably in the
summer of 1934 that Rivera began an affair with Kahlo's younger
sister Cristina. The liaison lasted well into 1935. Usually Kahlo
dismissed Rivera's philandering with a laugh and a shrug. As she
once put it 'Being the wife of Diego is the most marvelous thing
in the world. I let him play matrimony with other women. Diego
is not anybody's husband and never will be, but he is a great
comrade.' Early in 1935 Kahlo moved out of her and Rivera's home
in the San Angel section of Mexico City and took a small apartment
in the city's center. To spite her husband, she cut off the long
hair that he adored and she stopped wearing the native costumes
that he felt Mexican women should wear. this self-portrait gives
us not just Frida at the heroic sufferer. The woman depicted here
is also the feisty, flirtatious, fun-loving twenty-eight-year-old
whose beauty and ribald speech charmed the sculptor Isamu Noguchi
who became her love the year she painted this portrait. In July
1935 Frida flew to New York where she confided her troubles to
Bertram D. Wolfe, Rivera's biographer and friend, and to his wife
Ella" to whom she presented the self-portrait as a gift.
Rivera (1886-1957) is represented by a couple of important works,
Lots 22 and 37, both of which are part of the National Heritage
of Mexico and cannot be removed from Mexico and accordingly are
reproduced in the auction catalogue but now shown at the exhibition.
At recent Latin American Art auctions in New York, other works
that have not been permitted to leave Mexico have not fared well
at auction despite their high quality, a reflection perhaps that
buyers like to see what they are getting.
muerta con limones," is a gorgeous Cubist still life, shown
at the top of this article, that Rivera painted in 1916. An oil
on canvas, it measures 24 by 29 inches and is the back-cover
of the catalogue. It has an estimate of $400,000 to $600,000.
It failed to sell and was passed at $380,000.
37, the other Rivera
work shown only in the catalogue, is entitled "Niña
Con Muñeca." An oil on canvas, it measures 30 3/8
by 24 inches and was painted in 1954. It has an estimate of $400,000
to $500,000. It sold for $455,500. The catalogue
that "Within the tradition of social realism, Diego Rivera's
portraiture of children excels as Mexico's most dignified expression
of an indigenous art." This is a very stylized picture and
the child almost looks like a doll. It is a handsome work, although
not as exciting as the beautiful still life.
poignant and dramatic
is Lot 34, "Campesino (Figura)," a painting of a youth
by David Alfaro Siqueiros (1896-1974). Another work that is part
of the National Heritage of Mexico and according shown only in
the catalogue, it is a pyroxiline on masonite that measures 33
1/8 by 27 3/8 inches. It has a modest estimate of $80,000 to $120,000.
It sold for $95,600.
was painted in 1960,
the year in which the regime of President Adolfo Lopez Mateos
apprehended Siqueiros for participating in Communist demonstrations.
He was detained in the Preventive Jail at Lecumbreri, where he
remained until 1964. According to the catalogue, "Siqueiros
wasted neither energy nor time during these four years in prison.
While organizing his own legal defense and an international campaign
demanding his freedom by bombarding the press with pamphlets and
manifests, he also developed cultural activities for the other
inmates. Most significantly, however, was his prolific production
of smaller canvases given the constraints of his cell - that gained
in vigor and gestural freedom. According to an art critic of the
time, Siqueiros painted between three to four canvases a week,
which would then sell in the American market for $2,000."
(1883-1949), Rivera and Siqueiros were the triumvirate of the
famous Mexican Muralist artists. Lot 52, "Guerreros, Españoles
e Indios," is a small but powerful gouache on paper. Executed
about 1945, it measures 13 3/4 by 20 1/2 inches and has a modest
estimate of $70,000 to $90,000. It sold for $71,700.
Matta (1911-2002) is one of the great Surrealists and is represented
in this auction by three very strong works, Lots 46, 56 and 163.
46, "Que se Despierte
El Leñador," is a stunning large oil that Matta painted
in 1951. An oil on canvas, it measures 56 7/8 by 78 1/8 inches
and the catalogue notes that the title "pays tribute to Pablo
Neruda's poem of the same name in chapter 9 of Canto General (1947).
This very dynamic and dramatic work has a very modest estimate
of $140,000 to $180,000. It sold for $153,100.
56, "Je t'ange,"
is an even larger Matta that abounds with energy. An oil on canvas,
it measures 128 ¼ by 102 inches and was painted in 1987.
It has an estimate of $150,000 to $200,000. It sold for
Philantrope," is not as sombre as Lots 46 and 46 and is also,
by Matta's standards, simpler. A charcoal and pastel on paper
laid down on canvas, it was drawn in 1951 and measures 59 ½
by 39 ½ inches. It has a conservative estimate of $40,000
to $50,000. It sold for $41,825.
Lam (1902-1982) was a Cuban-born artist merged the simplicity
of Matisse with the Cubism of Picasso to forge his own quite
style that is fiercely elegant and mythic. Lot 30, "Sans
Titre (La pareja)," is the cover illustration of the catalogue.
An oil on canvas that measures 41 ½ by 33 inches and was
painted circa 1942. It has an estimate of $280,000 to $320,000.
It sold for $399,500, and the price was applauded by many of
those in attendance. "Lam," the catalogue observed,
"discovered that the modernist endeavor was not simply a
matter of cross-fertilization between two worlds, nor the creation
of syncretic and hybrid figures and thus he took upon the role
of breaking the differences that existed between the formal and
the vernacular. Untitled (La pareja)
reveals relationships of power, gender and sexuality that were
so much part of the Afro-Cuban culture he was trying to exalt."
Lams, Lots 115 and 122, are simpler than Lot 30 but no less powerful.
Lot 115, an untitled oil and watercolor on paper laid down on
canvas, was painted in 1969. It measures 20 3/8 by 27 ¾
inches and has a conservative estimate of $18,000 to $22,000.
It seems to depict a bird-like creature in flight. It failed
has the same estimate but seems to depict a tall dog. Entitled
"Animal," it is color chalk on paper that measures 23
1/8 by 29 inches and was drawn in 1957. It failed to sell.
"Dos mujeres desvistiéndose," by Armando Morales,
is an oil and beeswax on canvas that measures 51 1/8 by 42 7/8
inches. Painted i 1996, it has an estimate of $120,000 to $160,000.
It sold for $119,500. It is a classic and superb
whose warm, subtle blue-green palette adds a degree of mystery
to his Michelangeloesque figures. Morales is consistently interesting
and this is a fine and very painterly work.
the most beautiful painting in the auction is Lot 24, "Figura,"
by Gunther Gerszo. An oil on masonite, it measures 17 3/4 by 14
inches and was executed in 1957. An early work by Gerszo, it has
a much broader and warmer palette than his later abstractions.
It has a modest estimate of $40,000 to $60,000. It sold for
Toledo (b. 1940) is one of the most talented contemporary Latin
American artists whose works display a rich imagination, a fluid
painterliness and a lush palette. Lot 51, "Juárez
buscando la piedra que guie Xhaaya," is an unusual and interesting
work by Toledo. A watercolor and collage on fossil, it measures
9 1/4 by 5 1/8 inches. Executed in 1985, it has an estimate of
$30,000 to $35,000. It failed to sell and was passed at
Lot 7 is
am amusing, satirical and attractive collage that uses American
flag stickers on a printed map of the world. It is entitled "Map
from the series: Right You Are If You Think You Are," and
it was executed in 2003 by Nelson Leirner (b. 1932). It measures
32 1/4 by 48 1/2 inches and has an estimate of $10,000 to $15,000.
It failed to sell and was passed at $7,500.
amusing is Lot 8, another 2003 work by Nelson Leirner. It consists
of 8 Sotheby's catalogue covers with added sculptural elements,
each enclosed in plexiglass boxes. It has a modest estimate of
$18,000 to $22,000. It failed to sell and was passed at
Leonora Carrington (b. 1917) is
Surrealist and Lot 100 is a charming small work that she executed
in 1960. Entitled "Figure in Water," the oil on board
measures 10 1/8 by 7 3/8 inches. It has a very conservative estimate
of $12,000 to $16,000. It sold for $33,460.
Lot 6, "Mundo
sold for $74,090, almost three times the previous world auction
record for Beatriz Milhazes (b. 1960).
Lot 10, "La isla de
I and II (diptych)," sold for $20,315, breaking the previous
world auction record of $15,216 for Kcho (b. 1970).
Lot 13, "Sin titulo
sold for $45,410, breaking the previous world auction record of
$31,625 for Sergio Hernandez (b. 1957).
Lot 16, "Arte fisica:
de linha estendidos," sold for $47,800, breaking the previous
world auction record of $27,600 for Cildo Meireless (b. 1948).
Lot 18, "Bicho," sold
breaking the previous world auction record for Lygia Clark (1920-1988)
Lot 60, "Femmes
for $125,000, breaking the previous world auction record of $107,000
for Pedro Coronel (1923-1985).