By Carter B.
This fall Sotheby's has split
its major Latin
American Art sale into two catalogues.
The first, Surrealist Art from
consists of 21 lots that start the evening auction and is highlighted
by several major works, including two Mattas and one by Wilfredo
Lam, and good examples by several important woman artists.
The cover illustration, shown
above, of the
"Surrealist" catalogue is Lot 8, "The Disasters
of Mysticism," an impressive oil on canvas, 38 3/8 by 51
3/8 inches, by Matta (b. 1911) that was formerly in the collection
of James Thrall Soby and the Wadsworth Atheneum.
At his best, Matta ranks with
a master of complex and dynamic abstract compositions of far deeper
dimension that the more simplistic works of the Abstract
Cubists opened the door and eventually one stubs one’s toes
on the amazing vortices of Kandinsky and Matta.
In her essay in the catalogue
on Matta, Martica
Sawin notes that the artist’s "psychic automatism"
sessions in his New York studio in 1942 attracted such artists
as Jackson Pollock, Robert Motherwell and William Baziotes, and
she provides the following biographical information:
"The youngest member of the
Surrealist group, Roberto Sebastian Matta Echaurren, had arrived
in New York from France with is American wife, Anne Clark, shortly
after the outbreak of World War II. He was joined by other refugee
Surrealists, including Max Ernest, André Masson, Yves Tanguy
and the movement’s poet spokesman André Breton. Young,
charismatic, fluent in English, French and Spanish as well as
an artist of great facility and a wide-ranging intellect, he soon
was exhibiting his unique paintings at the Julien Levy and Pierre
Matisse galleries and attracting a following among young American
artists; Matta, who studied drawing and interior design in his
native Chile was working in Paris as a draftsman in the architectural
office of Le Corbusier in the mid-1930s when he made a momentous
trip to visit his aunt in Spain. Federico Garcia Lorca was a frequent
visitor in the home of his aunt and uncle and Matta was deeply
impressed by the famous poet. Lorca gave him a book and a note
to deliver to Salvador Dalí in Paris, but it was not until
the following year when he learned of Lorca’s murder by the
Falangists that he went to call on Dali. On the latter’s
recommendation Matta took some drawings to show the Surrealist
leader, André Breton, who welcomed him into the group,
along with his friend Gordon Onslow-Ford. It was a case of Surrealism
adopting the two artists rather than their adopting Surrealism
as they were already deeply involved in their own visionary pursuit
which Matta named psychological morphology….This concept
of space transformed by time rather than seen at a single instant
has been the driving force in Matta’s work from the outset.
Using mulitperspectival transparent structures in combination
with opaque planes and translucent washes, Matta creates spaces
that seem to break the time barrier, fulfilling his dictum that
‘reality can only be represented in a state of perpetual
transformation.’…At the time he painted The Disasters
of Mysticism Matta was immersed in the writings of the 19th
century mystic Eliphas Levy and was also deeply interested in
alchemy and the Tarot.…It is likely that there is a reference
to alchemical transformation in the liquid flow of translucent
white around the nucleus of flame on the left side of the painting
while the pearl-like shape at the right center, which appears
in other works of this time, may represent an astral egg and the
red form above it may signify the birth of a planet. The juxtapositions
of fire and ice, of flashing light and opaque darkness, of liquid
flow and solid rock convey a sense of a universe in simultaneous
formation and dissolution at the same time as they may allude
to the catacyclismic events of a war that had some of its darkest
hours at the time this work was painted. The Disasters of
was shown in the Feburary 1944 Matta exhibition at the Pierre
Matisse Gallery which elicited rave reviews. It was purchased
by James Thrall Soby, at the time Director of Painting and Sculpture
at the Museum of Modern Art and author of several articles on
Matta. It was included in the 1957 Matta retrospective at the
museum at which time curator William Rubin described it as ‘the
most expressionistic of Matta’s early works, notable for
the rich handling of the impasto and its mood of foreboding and
Several fine Mattas were
offered at auction
unsuccessfully last spring at Christie's (see The
City Review article). This work has an "estimate on request."
It sold for $2.4 million, not including the buyer's premium,
easily breaking the auction record for the artist of $1,610,000.
The other major Matta painting
is Lot 4, "Morphologie
Psychologique," a 28 ½-by-36 1/8-inch oil on canvas,
executed in 1929. This very colorful and fine example of the artist’s
Surrealist automatism was originally in the collection of Max
Ernst and has an estimate of $500,000 to $700,000. It sold
for $900,000, not including the buyer's premium.
Matta is Lot 209, "Le
Bruit de Songes," a 59-by-92-inch pastel on paper that was
executed in 1983 and has a very conservative high estimate of
$40,000. It sold for $27,600 including the buyer's premium. Lot
66 is another good Matta entitled "Les Champs de La Memoire,"
a 45 3/4-by-59-inch oil, that has a conservative high estimate
of $150,000. It sold for $75,000 not including the buyer's premium.
Wilfredo Lam (1902-1982) is
the auction by Lot 17, a 61 ½-by-58 ¼-inch oil on
canvas entitled "Triangle." Executed in 1947, the painting,
according to the catalogue, "amalgamates key forms in the
Cuban landscape that Lam animated in accordance with an Afro-Cuban
"From the time of Lam’s return
Havana in late 1941, the artist worked in a Cubist- and
language, characterized by reconfiguring human, animal and plant
imagery, wherein one element metamorphoses into another, creating
a sense of endless visual possibilities and surprise….The
spikey forms of the plantain tress (that grew in the artist’s
garden), the animated spirits, and the triangular motifs, signifying
Abakuá retentions in religious practices in Cuba,
are painted in deep, lush tones suggested a crepuscular time of
day. Lam both participated in and contributed to the international
contemporary modernist art dialogue of his time. He successfully
recast it from that of his fellow Cuban, European and North and
South American colleagues. Lam looked inward and outward at once,
affirming his complex ethno-cultural identities within the boundaries
of style and subjects that were unmistakably his," it added.
It sold for $900,000,
not including the
buyer's premium, within the pre-sale estimate.
Another Lam is less
ominous and more beautiful,
Lot 148, "Quatre Personnages," a 80 3/8-by-55 1/4-inch
gouache and watercolor on paper, painted in 1958. This work is
better than most Picassos and has a conservative high estimate
of $175,000. It sold for $277,500 including the buyer's premium.
Another very lovely Picassoeasque work by Lam is Lot 120 "Mere
et Enfant," a 40 1/2 by 29 inch watercolor and charcoal on
paper, executed in 1939. It has a conservative high estimate of
$40,000. It faild to sell.
Lots 124, 125, 130 and
131 each contain
numerous fine drawings by Lam, all of which are very handsomely
framed. Lot 130 has an estimate of $10,500 and the others each
have an estimate of $12,000 to $18,000, and all contain very fine
works. These lots should all greatly exceed their high estimates.
Including the buyer's premiums, Lot 124 sold for $37,375, Lot
125 sold for $57,500 and Lot 130 sold for $48,875.
Leonora Carrington, (b. 1917),
one of the leading
female Surrealists, is represented by two works, Lots 7 and 18.
The former is a 35 ¾-by-22 inch oil on canvas, entitled,
"The Lodging House," that was executed in 1949 and has
an estimate of $125,000 to $175,000. It sold for $140,000 not
including the buyer's premium. It is a work of great charm
and fantasy that is somber, yet delicate. The latter, a very fine
work of great humor, is entitled "The Analyst," and
is a 17 ¾-by-23 ¾-inch casein and graphite on panel
that was executed in 1964. It has a conservative estimate of $70,000
to $90,000. It sold for $120,000 not including the buyer's
Frida Kahlo (1907-1954), who is
most famous female Latin American artist, is represented by Lot
1, a very nice seated self-portrait drawing, 11 ¾ by 8
¼ inches, that has an estimate of $70,000 to $80,000. It
sold for $55,000 including the buyer's premium.
One of the other leading women
María Izquierdo (1902-1955), who became the companion,
model and colleague of Rufino Tamayo and a respected artist in
One of her last major works,
y presentimento," Lot 13, a 17 7/8-by-23-inch oil on canvas,
executed in 1947, has an estimate of $450,000 to $550,000. It
sold for $450,000, not including the buyer's premium.
She held her first show in
Mexico in 1929 and
two years later her work was exhibited at the Museum of Modern
Art in New York. A few years later she was commissioned to do
a mural for a government building in Mexico City but the contract
was cancelled after "envy and intrigues on the part of certain
(male) painters," according to the catalogue. The incident
greatly depressed her and her work became more brooding.
In a catalogue essay on the
Lozano recounts that:
"The artist recounts that she
a from a great malaise and she began to experience nightmares
that left her sleepless. One fine day, she arose and drew what
she remembered….Then there appeared a clear vision of her
self-portrait, in a window of metaphysical dimension, holding
her own decapitated head as her body, still walking, became lost
in the distance of steps leading to the void. A few weeks, Later
María Izquierdo suffered a stroke that left part of her
body paralyzed. Hence Sueño y presentimiento was
a premonitory painting, produced by the power of the subconscious,
that heralded great pain for her in the future. Beginning with
that moment, Maria Izquierdo’s creative processes would be
interrupted abruptly, and thus this canvas constitutes the last
of her great works."
Far less somber is Lot 16,
a 1957 oil on masonite, 29 ½ by 17 ¾ inches, by
Remedios Varo (1908-1963). This enchanting and mysterious work
depicts two people in a tall vehicle surmounted by a flag and
compass that is drawn by the sails and wings of a large bird on
a wheel. The vehicle is rose-colored but not particularly festive
but it has a door that opens onto a curved rear platform. The
vehicle appears to be not a road but also not moving despite mysterious
wisps of mist or fog streaming backwards from the bird’s
phantasmogoric headdress of sails underneath the trees whose branches
have grown together to form a vaulted ceiling, a vast canopy.
The lot has an estimate of $450,000 to $550,000. It was
Other interesting works are Lot
del Tibet," a 8 3/8-by-4 ¾-inch tempera on paper,
dated 42, by Juan Batlle Planas (1911-1966), which has a high
estimate of $15,000, and Lot 15, "Hombre Amarillo,"
a 26-by-46 ½-inch oil and sand on paper, executed circa
1964-5, by Francisco Toldeo (b. 1940), which has a high estimate
of $40,000. Lot 19, however, was withdrawn from the auction. Lot
15 sold for its high estimate, not including the buyer's premium.
Armando Morales (b. 1927) has a
painting style that conjures the sculptural. Lot 52, shown above,
"Oracle sur Managua: Hommage a Ernesto Cardenal," a
64-by-79-inch oil on canvas, executed in 1989, is a major and
superb example of his work.
The catalogue offers the
following fine commentary
on this work:
"The ethereal quality of
can be attributed to his unique approach to the depictions of
light. Like a magic prism, rays emanate and occasionally even
refract from figures while moonlight caresses the glowing objects.
Reminiscent of the work of Italian metaphysical painter Giorgio
de Chirico, Morales manipulates our view of reality by elevating
his figures to supernatural status while placing them in settings
familiar to us....Monumental not only in scale but also in its
visual impact, Oracle sur Managua: Hommage to Ernesto Cardenal
offers an optical feast to its viewers. Images found throughout
the figurativ period in Armando Morales' oeuvre flood the canvas.
Nudes, bicycles, dogs, horses, mirrors, found objects, train tracks
and the carriages are forms that populate the canvas of this
Morales has deftly synthesized virtually every element into what
can be descibed as the quintessential painting in his oeuvre."
The lot has a conservative high
$450,000. It was passed at $320,000.
Morales has another good work,
Lot 38, "Selva,"
a 63 3/4-by-73 1/2-inch oil on canvas, dated 1986, which is the
cover illustration of the catalogue. This dense, surreal forest
scene has an ambitious high estimate of $600,000. It sold for
Bravo (b. 1936) is
one of the world's great photorealist painters but such a label
is too simple and insufficient for his dramatic, enigmatic work.
A marvelous technician, he has a great knack for surprise and
a bold sense of composition. His work is not cluttered with the
detritus of inkempt detail, yet he combines the prosaic with the
astounding with a very formal classicism. Lot 54, shown above,
"Blue Package with Ostrich Eggs," oil on canvas, 43
by 55 inches, executed in 1971, is a fine example of his work.
Most painters would have cropped the top third of the painting
to achieve a tighter, more focused composition, but Bravo's composition
gives it a spatial dynamic that greatly increases its mystery
and drama. It has a high estimate of $450,000. It sold for
$460,000. Lot 26, "Blue Package," a 33
oil on canvas by Bravo soared above its $700,000 high estimate
and sold for $925,000 not including the buyer's premium. Another
Bravo that happens to have a "tight" composition is
Lot 67, "Magnetic Red," a 65-by-47-inch oil on canvas
whose brilliant red painted crinkles are almost hypnoptically
Cubist. A stunning work, it has a somewhat ambitious high estimate
of $700,000. It was passed at $390,000.
More than most contemporary
artists, Carlos Mérida has a great sense of the abstract
vocabulary of Pre-Columbia culture. Lot 182, shown above, "Trino
al Alba," a 31 5/8-by-23 7/8-inch oil on canvas, executed
in 1979, is an excellent example that evokes, both in its palette
and iconography, many of the great Pre-Columbia designs, but puts
them together into a new, unified arrangement that is most pleasing.
It has a conservative high estimate of $30,000. It failed to
The auction also has several by
(b. 1932) including Lot 47, "Feliz Cumpleaños"
a 61-by-75 1/4-inch oil on canvas that has a high estimate of
$400,000 and depicts a still life of food and cake that explains
how his many bulbous figures, not here present, got that way.
It was passed at $260,000.
One of the most
works is Lot 220, an untitled acrylic oil, rein and voile on canvas,
59 by 78 inches that is marvelous and full of mystery and has
an almost holographic look that is quite fascinating. It is by
Daniel Senise (b. 1955) and was executed in 1998 and has a quite
conservative estimate of $12,000 to $18,000. It failed to sell.
Lot 217, "Torso de
a 67 1/2-inch-high clay statue by Javier Marín (b. 1962)
that is memorable and would most likely have impressed Michelangelo.
Executed in 1997, it has an estimate of $15,000 to $20,000. It
sold for $18,400 including the buyer's premium.
evening sale bought numerous
bursts of applause for lots that did well.