By Carter B.
a very nice collection
of fine paintings, this Latin American Art auction fared very
poorly with only 51 percent of the 71 offered lots selling, a
dismal, disappointing and dreadful performance for an evening
sale. Many of the best lots did not sell despite relatively reasonable
Sokoloff, the head of
the Latin American Art Department at Christie's, said after the
evening sale that it "did feel harder than other sales"
and attributed part of the poor results to "obvious political"
turmoil in some Central and South American countries. Nevertheless,
the auction was well-attended by a well-attired crowd and its
passivity is rather inexplicable given the fact that the recent
slide in stock markets had been somewhat reversed in recent days,
the high quality of many of the works, and the remarkably strong
art market in general this season.
good news, according
to Ms. Sokoloff, was that half of the lots that sold went to Americans,
an indication that interest in the field is broadening. In addition,
while the previous night's Latin American Art sale at Sotheby's
(see The City Review article) was highlighted by the Frieda Kahlo
self-portrait that sold for more than $5 million, setting a record
for Latin American Art and for a woman artist, Sotheby's also
encountered strong buyer resistance and only sold about 62 percent
of its lots, also less than thrilling.
evening auction totalled
$5,879,900, far below its pre-sale low estimate of $12,823,000.
Despite general befuddlement about the overall results, Ms. Sokoloff
was buoyed by the fact that auction records were still set for
Venus," a bronze sculpture by Fernando Botero (b. 1932),
sold for $468,000, including the buyer's premium as do all sales
results in this article, breaking the former world auction record
for his sculpture of $420,000 set at Sotheby's in November, 1989.
53, "Nubes sobre
la laguna," by Tomás Sanchez (b. 1948), sold for $314,000,
breaking his previous auction record of $308,000 set at Christie's
in May, 1998. The painting,
1/2-inch oil on canvas, was the
illustration of the catalogue, It had an estimate of $250,000
- Interior con tinajas," by Guillermo Vera Muñoz (b.
1956), sold for $215,000, breaking his previous auction record
of $60,500 set at Christie's in June, 1999. This price brought
considerable applause from the otherwise rather subdued audience.
61, "Los diez manamientos,"
by Nicolas Leiva (b. 1959), sold for $30,550, breaking the previous
record price of $27,600 set at Christie's in November, 1998.
62, "The king and
the shoemaker," by Walter Goldfarb (b. 1964), sold for $22,350,
setting an auction record for the artist.
63, "Tigre con
garra," by Manuel Mendive (b. 1944), sold for $22,325, besting
his previous auciton record of $18,400 set at Christie's in November,
by Adolfo Riesta (1944-1989), sold for $21,150, breaking the artist's
previous auction record of $741.
highest price realized
at the auction was $721,000 for Lot 66, "En el viñedo,"
a 1920 oil by Diego Rivera, that had a low estimate of $1 million
and sold to a Mexican private buyer.
highlights of the
sale included Lot 31, "La fogata de San Juan," that
sold within its estimate for $468,000 to an anonymous buyer, Lot
56, "La novia," a 1910 work by Angel Záragga
that sold for $292,000 and had a high estimate of only $220,000.
weakness of this market
is rather baffling as demonstrated by the very large number of
works that failed to sell at both Sotheby's and Christie's this
season. It would appear that Latin American buyers are not as
sophisticated as they should be and that the rest of the world
still has not caught on to the fact that there are many marvelous
and important Latin American artists who can hold
own internationally. For serious collectors, then, Latin American
art, like Tribal Art, remains one of the few areas where good
bargains still remain.
For the past few seasons, Matta
has stood out
as the foremost "Latin American" artist available in
the major auctions at both Christie’s and Sotheby’s,
but this season he is bested by Rufino Tamayo (1889-1991).
Matta, of course, is a great
whose works transcend specific cultures or nationalities. Tamayo,
on the other hand, is an artist whose aesthetic temperament is
very much rooted in the earthiness and heat of tropic climes and
in the rich cultural traditions of Pre-Columbian art of the Americas.
Tamayo’s works stop short of
abstract - he usually depicts a human figure - but they are not
far removed from the pulse of Mark Rothko’s best abstractions
and indeed are usually hotter. His world is a supersaturated
of color embedded, rather than floating over, his canvases, which
are very richly textured.
This auction has some very fine
Tamayo, several of which are not done in his typical, intense,
reddish palette and actually bear some similarity with Matta’s
wondrous calligraphic style and brighter palette.
Lot 16, "Tres personajes en
shown above, a 37 ½-by-51 ¼-inch oil and sand on
canvas painted by Tamayo in 1971 is a marvelous work depicting
three white figures against a light blue background with yellow
and violet highlights and red-brick grids. The painting conjures
a light, cool variation of Pablo Picasso’s "Three Musicians,"
and is full of delightful details such as the intimation of a
woman’s hair blowing in the wind with a few curved eye-lash-like
lines from the middle of the head of the figure on the right and
the apparent transparency of the middle figure’s torso and
the almost mechanical structure of parts of the figures. It has
a conservative estimate of $450,000 to $650,000. It was
Lot 25, "Buscador de
shown above, a 18 1/8-by-21 5/8-inch oil and sand on canvas painted
by Tamayo in 1960, has the intense, brilliance of lapis lazuli.
"Throughout his lengthy career a process of reduction occurred,
he gradually and consistently reduced those essential elements
that are present in all his work to a series of tools, like a
children’s set of toy blocks he used the same blocks in multiple
variations to build his pieces. He simplified the literal content
of the work to a point that explorations of color, texture, and
form could be heightened. By the early 1960s, this reductive tendency
had truly taken affect. Already visible in Buscador de
the human form, which had previously been distorted in fanciful
and often frightening ways, begins to exude a totemic quality.
The face has became standardized - an oval, two circles, a horizontal
and a vertical line - a mask rather than a face. It is an important
reference to Pre-Columbian culture, a source that Tamayo was quick
to incorporate in a subtle manner. In writing about Tamayo, James
Lynch has linked this conceptualization of the human face with
the contemporary Mexican literature of Carlos Fuentes in which
the bourgeoisie world of our time can no longer create myths and
has become sterile, thus masks must be used in order to create
fantasy identities," the catalogue entry for the lot noted.
While accurate, this description oversimplifies Tamayo’s
oeuvre, which is richly imaginative. While his subject matter
may not vary much, his works are not formula-driven and demonstrate
great individuality. This lot has an estimate of $250,000 to $350,000.
It was passed at $180,000.
Lot 19, "Carnavelesca," shown
a 77-by-51 ¼-inch oil and sand on canvas painted by Tamayo
in 1974, is a dazzling work that has a conservative estimate of
$500,000 to $700,000. It was passed at $450,000! The record
for a Tamayo is $2,585,000. A figure wearing a tall cone hat
appears to be holding a large, slender white cross about which
white streamers dance against a background that is vertically
split between a light blue sky with a large moon and a pink structure
with a light-green figure or object at the right behind the cross.
The streamers convey the dynamic, festival atmosphere of a carnival
but the strongly sculpted face of the main figure and the greenish
color of the other figure or object lend a fine sense of mystery.
Lot 13, "Spectral Bird," shown
a 31 ½ -by-39 ½-inch oil on canvas, executed in
1956 is a relatively dark Tamayo and the catalogue notes that
it "is reflective of his desire to minimize the amount of
different colors in a specific piece and concentrate on the values
of just a few." "It is a piece," it continued,
"in which three or four colors are explored and subtly tinkered
with. The painting is tectonic and graphic yet it is soft and
its colors soulful, it is both abstract and concrete, strong and
welcoming. Like many of his great works, this painting engages
on many visual levels and the actual paint to elevated to a language
of texture and color." It quoted the artist as having said
that, "Pictorially speaking, it is more valuable to exhaust
the possibilities of a single color than to use a limitless variety
of pigments." The lot has an estimate of $400,000 to $500,000.
It was passed at $320,000.
Tamayo’s sculptures are
and totemic works. Lot 35, "Atlante," shown above, a
bronze sculpture, 85 ½ inches high, with red, black and
gray patina, was executed in 1990 and is one of 8 sculptures
by GVG Editions of Monterey, Mexico issued in editions of three
each with a unique and different patina. It has an estimate of
$200,000 to $300,000. It was passed at $150,000.
One of the auction’s other
is Lot 22, "The Emperor," shown above, a 101 ¾-by
53 ½-inch oil on canvas by Claudio Bravo (b. 1936). The
painting was executed in 1973, three years after his first exhibition
of "package" paintings at the Staempfli Gallery in New
York. The catalogue provides the following commentary:
"Bravo has stated that the
for his paintings of packages, wrapped canvases and draperies
was the work of some of the New York School Abstract Expressionists,
especially Mark Rothko. Although in none of his paintings does
Bravo approximate the techniques or the secular spirituality of
the Abstract Expressionist painters, there is, nonetheless, an
analogous sense of calm and meditation in his images….While
it [Emperor] is not a work directly related to the
of the packages, it is, nonetheless, an image in which the artist
continues his intense investigation of the type of substances
that propelled him to begin to do the packages in the early 1960s.
Emperor plays a unique role in the development of
visual language as an ultimate, logical conclusion of his studies
of matter. This painting embodies the artist’s fascination
with empirical investigation and his deep engagement with tactility.
We may also look at Emperor in another light. During his long
stay in Madrid, Bravo was an avid visitor to the Prado Museum.
This repository of some of the greatest paintings by the most
revered old masters was Bravo’s classroom. Among the artist
that Bravo studied most closely were the Spanish Golden Age figures
of Francisco de Zurbáran and Diego Velázquez. It
was from Zurbáran that Bravo developed a deep reverence
for the exact depiction of textiles. Zurbáran’s representations
of monks wearing crisp, starched white habits, served as points
of departure for Bravo. From Velásquez, Bravo came to comprehend
the power of subtle, indirect illumination on cloth an other
may also be understood as a key image in Bravo’s art of the
1970s as it looks forward to what he has done in the more recent
past. After about 1990, Claudio Bravo began to pay more and more
attention to studies of drapery. …Emperor is the largest
of his drapery studies o the 1970s and it functions as a precedent
for many of his most compelling paintings of the 1990s. In a recent
public forum in Miami…, Bravo stated his belief that the
paintings in the Prado Museum could virtually all be understood
in terms of drapery. He urged his audience to look, for instance,
at the accomplishments of titian, another artist who has provided
Bravo with constant inspiration."
The lot has an estimate of
$600,000 to $800,000.
It failed to sell and passed at $450,000.
Lot 36, "Bolsas de papei," a
¼-inch oil on canvas painted by Bravo in 1970, is a very
good example of his paper bag series. It has an estimate of $180,000
to $220,000. It sold for $190,000. Bravo’s
is remarkable and the large scale of his studies manifests his
bravura, that takes "photo-realism" to a higher level:
his objects become monumental and overwhelming, but the lushness
of their color softens their visual impact. Bravo envelops his
viewers and imposes a very clear focus on the specificity of an
object, or related group of objects in a manner that is reverential
but also virtually scientific. …Oh! The creases, the sags,
the crinkles! While "humanity" may not be visible, one
can look at the red and blue drapes and almost imagine that the
red is playing "toesy" with the blue.
Bravo’s showmanship is
David Alfaro Siqueiros
(1896-1974) also is
capable of smacking one in the face with great visual power.
style, however, is much different. Bravo’s technique almost
seeks to make the medium of paint invisible and only the object
visible bathed in very clear and bright light. Siqueiros is a
bold painter with broad brushes and his slapdash pictures ooze
with energy and vitality. Lot 18, "Estudio para Caracol,"
a 27-by-20-inch pyroxilin on panel, shown above, is a study of
a conch shell, much in the style of some still lifes by Marsden
Hartley. Executed in 1940, this lot has a modest estimate of $60,000
to $80,000. It sold for only $58,750!
The catalogue provides the
"Although it was the large
format that made Siqueiros one of the most important painters
in Latin America, it is in many of his easel paintings that one
can see the essence of his work. Removed from the overwhelming
context of the mural, his technique becomes clearer and more
his hand visible. Often the political and historical implications
of his murals, the mere power of the context, overtake the details.
These smaller works were usually done for private collections
and though usually not outside of his typical themes - history,
the Revolution, the proletariat; they convey something more direct
about the art in technical terms than the murals - which are
of their context and were painted by both the artist and assistants.
Here we see Siqueiros’[s] love of the plastic nature of the
pyroxilin paint. He uses the paint in thick heavy layers, catching
and mixing colors, almost sculpting the surface of the canvas.
In the forties, Siqueiros began to move away from the dark palette
of his earlier works. Bright colors began to invade the somber
tones and shadowy backgrounds without losing any sense of power.
In fact, the works become stronger, the vibrancy more immediate
and direct. Where earlier work is clouded in a weighty solemnity,
often illustrating the sad state of the Mexican working class,
these brighter works are reactive, confrontational statements
not content to be commentary or cerebral. The change to powerful
colors signals a much more direct recognition of the potency possible
in the mural pieces. The colors become explosive, aggressive and
hyper saturated, these are the colors of Revolution, not the sad
introspective tones of his thirties work….Although not in
motion, the image is almost pulsating in its urgent need to break
out of the canvas, a still life full of motion. Weapon, horn,
religion symbol, the caracol is articulated with architectonic
points and crags, this is not a memento from the beach but a specific
About five years after he
painted the conch
shell, Siqueiros painted Lot 10, shown above, "El Revolucionario,"
a 31-by-25-inch pryoxylin on panel. This extremely powerful image
of the face of a man wearing a large straw hat is Siqueiros at
his best. The wide brim of the hat is marvelously painted in this
tightly cropped image, its curves echoed in the top of the garment
just below the face and again in the curve of the left side of
the man’s neck. The nose is highlighted with an extremely
bold triangular patch of white. The man’s lower lip projects
determinedly from beneath the man’s mustache. His eyes are
focused to the left. The man is clearly tensed for action.
The catalogue provides the
(with the typical somewhat awkward writing that often is found
in the Latin American catalogues, perhaps a translation, or
"In the early 1940’s Siqueiros
once again out of favor with the Mexican government. For almost
three years, he was in a state of exile, not welcome in Mexico
due to his involvement on the attack of Leon Trotsky. Feared by
many Latin American governments as a social agitator he spent
this period seeking work and asylum. This period best reflects
the real power of Siqueiros as a leader, while he was greeted
with unease and suspicion by many, his power was recognized and
supported in unusual ways. Although he was denied a visa to enter
the United States, as he was a known communist, he received a
grant from the United States State Department for an important
lecture tour he wanted to conduct ‘Art for Victory’.
Already a committed opponent of the Fascist movements plaguing
Europe, and further disgusted by Nazi support he saw in South
America, Siqueiros launched a program to raise awareness and support
for the anti-Fascist forces through art. Again he used his art
as a platform for change and social response, his lectures initiated
programs throughout the region. After completing projects in Chile
and Cuba, Siqueiros was allowed to secretly return to Mexico in
1943. As he was not free to be in public, he immediately began
working on an important mural in the house in which he was living
in hopes that its unveiling would rekindle the scattered and weakened
Muralist movement. The revealing of the mural Cuauhtemac
el mito was planned to acknowledge Siqueiros return to
The government did not intervene when flyers announcing the unveiling
were sent and interest in the project increased, signaling their
tacit acceptance of his move back into public life. The unveiling
was a great success and immediately afterwards Siqueiros began
issuing manifestos and looking for a public mural project. A public
project would not come through until 1945. Throughout his career,
Siqueiros frequently used his easel works as a way to live between
commissioned projects. Though these works were most often created
for private collections and destined for collectors’ walls,
they were not free from his political ideologies and aims. The
smaller format allowed him in many cases to work on themes and
details to be incorporated in his murals. A hallmark of Siqueiros’
identifiable style is a cinematic or photographic like closeup,
in many of these works he would often crop the borders of the
piece like a photographer, zeroing in on the object and detail.
El Revolucionario is such a work. At first glance
a straightforward portrait of a revolutionary,. Upon further
more information is revealed. Encoded in the strong brushstrokes
that form the stern face of the revolutionary is the symbol of
the Communist Party; a hammer emerges from the profile encompassing
the nose, and the sickle from a swooping movement on the right
of the eye. Though often at odds, Siqueiros was a prominent member
of the Communist Party of Mexico throughout his life, it follows
that he would use even a portrait to send a political message.
His paintings, like his murals, are powerful affairs not content
to be without strength."
The work has an estimate of
$90,000 to $110,000.
It sold for $116,000. The record for the artist is only
Another fine Siqueiros work is
Lot 41, "Provecto
parael mural Del porfirismo a la Revolucion en el Castillo de
Chapultepec," shown above, a 48 1/4-by-66 1/4-inch pyroxilin
on masonite, oil on canvas study for his mural at the El Castillo
de Chapultepec. In 1957, the artist was commissioned to execute
a mural depicting the Revolution for the El Castillo de Chapultepec
that was being converted in to the Museo Nacional de Historia.
This study for the mural was painted in 1958 and depicts one of
its main focal points, the 1906 miners' strike of Cananea, which
is regarded by many as the birth of the Revolution. The mural
took ten years to complete in part because of the second incarceration
of the artist in 1960 that led to his spending four years in jail
for political crimes. It has an estimate of $150,000 to $200,000.
It sold for $193,000.
"Recojedor de agave,"
by Diego Rivera (1886-1957), watercolor, 16 1/4 by 13 inches,
1941, shown above is a superb and simple work that has an estimate
of $30,000 to $40,000. It was withdrawn. The
a wonderful pendant for it, Lot 9, "Road Workers," a
gouache on paper, 10 7/8 by 8 1/8 inches, executed in 1932 by
Rufino Tamayo. It has an estimate of $20,000 to $25,000. It
sold for $35,250.
Leonora Carrington (b. 1917) is
one of the
more exotic Surrealists and is represented by several good works
in the auction. Lot 29, "Ulu's pants," oil and tempera
on panel, 21 3/9 by 36 inches, shown above, was executed in 1952.
It has an estimate of $100,000 to $150,000. It sold for
The record for the artist is $473,000.
Lot 213, "Casting the Runes,"
Leonora Carrington is a mixed oil, tempera and gold leaf on three-ply,
30 3/8 by 17 3/8 inches. Painted in 1951, it has an estimate of
$70,000 to $90,000.
Carrington work is
Lot 14, "Courage and the Art They Did Not Lack," an
oil on canvas, 15 by 18 1/8 inches. It was painted in 1959 and
has an estimate of $100,000 to $150,000. It sold for $90,000.
The painting refers to the work of George Ripley, an
alchemist of the 15th Century.
65, "Baile de másaras," a bright, fine 1954 work,
sold for $292,000 and had a low estimate of $350,000. It was part
of a small group of paintings from a private collector, Gary Nader,
an art dealer in Miami, Fla, that was in a separate catalogue
for this auction.
A fine mystical work is Lot 34,
con rayos astrales," by Remedios Varo (1900-1963), shown
above, an oil and tempera on masonite, 26 by 16 1/2 inches, that
was executed in 1955. The work as an estimate of $280,000 to $360,000.
It was passed at $240,000! The auction record for the artist
Another interesting painting is
Lot 2, "El
Secreto Compartido," by Alfredo Castañeda (b. 1938),
shown above, a 31 1/2-by-43 1/4-inch oil on canvas that is being
sold to benefit the Museo Nacional de Arte Munal in Mexico City.
It was executed in 1999 and has an estimate of $50,000 to $70,000.
It was bought in at $38,000.
One of the auction's loveliest
works is Lot
33, "Nuncio Solar," shown above, by Alejandro Xul Solar,"
(1887-1963), pencil and watercolor on paper, 8 1/4 by 4 1/4 inches,
1923. The lot has an estimate of $70,000 to $90,000. It passed
Another highlight of the
auction is Lot 39,
"Codice de Juchitián," by Francisco Toledo (b.
1940), one of the finest contemporary Latin American artists.
This 30 1/4-by-22 1/4-inch plaster and chalk on canvas is a stunning,
swirling vortex of whites and grays and was painted in 1973. It
has an estimate of $60,000 to $80,000. It was passed at
Carlos Mérida (1891-1984) is a
good and consistent artist who focused on geometric abstractions
that use many Pre-Columbia stylistic patterns. Lot 232, "Figuras
abstractas," a 29 1/8-by-22 1/2-inch watercolor and ink on
paper, is done most in cool blues rather than his usual hot reds
and was executed in 1978 and has an estimate of $18,000 to $22,000.