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Latin American Art

Christie's

Wednesday, 7 PM, May 30, 2001 (Lots 1-71)

Thursday, 10AM, May 31, 2001 (Lots 74-226)

Sale 9660

Study for mural by David Alfaro Siqueiros

Lot 40, "Proyecto para el mural sur de la Cd. Universitaria: La gente de la universidad y la universidad de la gente," by David Alfaro Siqueiros, a 48 4/5-by-143-inch vinyl on masonite and triplay work, 1951

By Carter B. Horsley

This Latin American art auction at Christie's is highlighted by a fine mural study by David Alfaro Siqueiros (1896-1974), two very good works by Frida Kahlo (1907-1954), two excellent paintings by Rufino Tamayo, a superb painting by Angel Zarraga (1886-1946), and an important mural study by Joaquin Torres-Garcia (1874-1949).

Lot 40, "Proyecto para el mural sur de la Cd. Universitaria: La gente de la universidad y la universidad de la gente," by David Alfaro Siqueiros, shown above, is an excellent study for a large mural that the artist created for the Rectoria at the Universidad Nacional Autonoma de México.

The 48 4/5-by-143-inch vinyl on masonite and triplay work was painted in 1951 and has a conservative estimate of $220,000 to $260,000. It sold for $270,000 including the buyer's premium as do all results mentioned in this article.

The catalogue provides the following commentary on this lot:

"Siqueiros' life and work were fraught with complications, his artistic work cannot be separated from the political or vice versa, his art rests in his politics and ideals, even his brushstrokes carry the forcefulness of his convictions. Beyond depicting Mexican history, the actual painted surfaces of the murals are the realization of the incredible struggle their production process entailed. The ambitious three-dimensional murals that Siqueiros wanted to createwere nearly not completed due to an arduous battle of red tape and political scheming. The murals at the University were physically three dimensional, with protruding shapes covered not in paint but ceramic mosaic. The enormous south wall of the Rectoria was visible from the highway and thus the image conceived there was to be viewed from a moving vehicle. Speed and movement were consistent concerns in Siqueiros work and her he was able to utilize not just the plane of the mural but also that of the viewer. The present lot is the detailed study he created on the roof of his studio in order to work out the impressive structure and dynamism of the monumental piece. This painting is part of the National Heritage of Mexico and cannot be removed from that country."

This is a spectacular and very ambitious work that shows off the very impressive compositional skills of Siqueiros as well as his painterly boldness. At his best, Siqueiros has great intensity and emotion in his work and here he has altered his typically rich, impasto techniques to accommodate the planned three-dimensional ceramic mural and in the process introduced an economy of detail with an exaggerated perspective and created a very vigorous composition that stops short of the flurries of the Italian Futurists, incorporates break-ups of geometric planes that stops short of the wilder schemes of the Cubists, and produced one of the great monuments of the Mexican Muralist tradition.

The two main front figures have both their arms extended forward as if in supplication and yearning for the need for "higher" learning and as if in proud presentation of their fruits of their learning. The red and yellow arms of the figure on the left are the focal point of this dynamic composition and they are treated as if they are almost metallic cylinders, presumably a reference to the passing automobile setting for the work and they serve as artistic pistons that propel the student's motion. The figure on the right, who follows the other figure, wears a white shirt and Siqueiros has treated his left shoulder with muscularity, presumably symbolic of the strength of youth.

A third major figure has both his arms extended outward from his sides as if to protect and guide the procession of other figures and he stands directly behind and beside the front figure on the left. Two other large figures stand behind the front figure on the right but their faces have not been defined and they appear as massive, supporting figures.

There is great energy and power in the study for the mural and the study is made even more interesting because it shows a small figure presumably looking up the mural that is raised and projected from a long blank gray wall. The small figure presumably gives scale but also happens to make this a more interesting work than if it were just a study of the mural itself. The mural is full of wonderful passages such as the highlighted face of the front figure on the right, the outlined treatment of his foreshortened left leg and the "aerodynamic" treatment of the blue figure's right arm.

The Siqueiros painting is part of the National Heritage of Mexico and cannot be removed from that country and is being offered for sale from the catalogue.

Still Life by Frida Kahlo

Lot 56, "Naturaleza muerta con perico y bandera," by Frida Kahlo, oil on masonite, 11 by 15 3/4 inches, 1951

Lot 56, "Naturaleza muerta con perico y bandera," by Frida Kahlo, shown above, is a 11-by-15 3/4-inch oil on masonite that was executed in 1951. The small but very charming painting has an estimate of $800,000 to $1,200,000 and is, like the Siqueiros lot above, a part of the National Heritage of Mexico and cannot be removed from that country. The catalogue entry for the lot observes that it is one of the artist's "last and most impressive still life works," adding that "here the composition is tight, the fruits are carefully arranged, some cut open to reveal their secrets while others are left whole and shy." "In many ways this cheerful painting could be seen like a party, each guest with distinct personalities, scents, and tastes assembled together with the prospect of rich conversation and probable flirtation. Perhaps more appropriately Naturaleza muerto con perico y bandera could be interpreted as a portrait of Mexico, as a maternal figure with the abundant fruit a testament to her fertility and richness. Lest we might confuse the subject of her work she pieces a toy Mexican flag through the open mamey. Mexico is purposefully inescapable in her work. Like other artists of her generation, making art that was intrinsically Mexican was paramount. The beautifully rendered fruits exude a ripe yet playful sensuality, the lighthearted quality heightened by the inclusion of the bright green parrot among the many curvaceous fruits," the catalogue entry continued. It failed to sell and was "passed" at $500,000.


Lot 62, "Karma," by Frida Kahlo, sepia ink on paper, 8 1/2 by 10 5/8 inches, 1946

Another Kahlo lot is Lot 62, which consists of two sepia ink on paper drawings, one entitled "Karma" and dated 1946, and the other a double-sided drawing, entitled "Dibujo de Nacho Agirre" on one side and "Dibujo de Ojos" on the reverse. The double-sided work was drawn in 1935.

"Karma" is a superb drawing that measures 8 1/2 by 10 5/8 inches and the catalogue notes that Kahlo's "Karma" drawings of 1946 "have been regarded as elaborate productions of 'psychic automatism," a popular Surrealist technique. "As one of the movement's most practiced exercises, these automatic drawings were perceived as gateways into the realm of the unconscious, and hence the most revelatory of all artistic practices. Intricate in detail and highly autobiographical in nature, these drawings reveal the playful and serendipitous character of Kahlo's work process," the catalogue entry continued.

The "Karma" drawing, shown above is wonderful, and the lot has a very conservative estimate of $80,000 to $100,000. It sold for $76,375.

Lot 60, " Máscara negra," by Rufino Tamayo, oil and sand on canvas, 51 1/2 by 37 3/8 inches, 1983

Lot 60, "Máscara negra," is a 51 1/2-by-37 3/8-inch oil and sand on canvas by Rufino Tamayo that was painted in 1983 and has an estimate of $300,000 to $350,000. It failed to sell and was "passed" at $280,000. This is a strong example of Tamayo and the excellent figure of a man stands in front of an architectural background rather than Tamayo's customary non-specific backgrounds. The masked figure's flexed pose is much more animated than most of the artist's "pre-historic" figures and Tamayo has experimented here with having the lower portion of the figure have darker skin shades, perhaps to better correspond with the figure's shadow on the pink walls behind him that open up to a ledge with a globe on it and a white wall in the distance beneath a pale blue sky. The palette and the painterly qualities of this work, shown above, are superb.


Lot 49, "L'homme et oiseau," by Rufino Tamayo, oil and sand on canvas, 18 1/8 by 27 3/4 inches, 1973

Lot 49, "L'homme et oiseau," shown above, is a more whimsical and heated Tamayo. The 18 1/8-by-27 3/4-inch oil and sand on canvas was executed in 1973 and has an estimate of $250,000 to $300,000. It sold for $193,000. Here, a hatted figure has a quizzical, mask-like look on his face which is painted with two white bands and the figure's skin is an fine dark jungle green. One presumes that the figure is proud of his friendly bird, which perhaps is about to sing and the figure is happy to greet/confront the viewer. The figure in Lot 60, however, is more tense than relaxed, and has the air of someone who has just passed a test/trial/challenge and is not sure whether there are more to come.

Lot 47, "Madre feliz," by Rufino Tamayo, oil on canvas, 49 1/2 by 39 5/8 inches, 1949

Lot 47, "Madre feliz," is a 49 1/2-by-39 5/8-inch oil on canvas, shown above, that Tamayo executed in 1949.

More dramatic and less subtle than the two other, later works by Tamayo in this auction cited above, this is a something of a "Mona Lisa" picture in that the broad smile of the monumental female figure holding a baby with outstretched arms can be interpreted as motherly delight and affection and happiness with her child, or perhaps something more diabolical, especially given the deep dark reds of the composition. The catalogue offers an optimistic interpretation with the following commentary:

"In 1949, while residing in Paris, Tamayo declared to the press: 'painting is becoming more and more intellectual. This is dangerous. I believe we must be more instinctual. Art should be felt more with the heart than with the spirit.' In an era when international art movements became oriented toward purist ideals, Rufino Tamayo remained devoted to the pictorial narration of the human experience. Within this narration so fervently pursued throughout his career, few are the occasions when we are presented with such an intimate family scene. Deeply respectful to the unique bond between mother and child, the present lot may be interpreted as a tribute to the cyclical rebirth of humanity. Painted in 1949, Madre Feliz attests to a period of post-war rejuvenation where Tamayo's awe of the universe crystallizes and eventually replaces the restless paintings of just a few years earlier. It has been noted that: 'in the most ancient cultures humor is related to that smiling knowledge of the world.' In paintings such as Madre Feliz, this 'smiling knowledge' goes beyond Tamayo's noted Mexicaness and instead becomes a shared condition - a universal quality. For the Oaxacan painter, humor was the most effective cross-cultural medium through which to express the same joyous experience. As the ultimate ambassador of color and form, Tamayo explored, perhaps more than any other Mexican artist of his time, the immense power of chromatic variations for conveying emotion. In Madre feliz, these gradations of yellows and crimson shades have been so consummately achieved that the effect is one of immediate infinite warmth, the kind of warmth that can only come from the heart."

To reinforce this interpretation, which is most likely correct, the catalogue reproduces in color a Tangu-Yu doll from Juchitán, Oaxaca, that dates to 1900-1920 and shows a woman holding up a baby in front of her in a pose related to the Tamayo painting.

This painting, which has an estimate of $400,000 to $600,000, has a bright yellow, multi-rayed sun in the background and the composition is framed by two asymmetical dark diagonals at the side and there are two bright red blotches in the yellow/golden background behind the figure. This is an imposing Tamayo, but more specific than many of his more universal/everyman/pre-historic figures and with a more vibrant intensity. It sold for $556,000, the highest sales price of the auction in which only 67 percent of the 70 offered lots sold for $4,251,525, and only three sold above their high estimates. The auction room audience applauded a fair bit when this lot was knocked down but most of the evening's bidding was on ordered bids or on the telephone.


Lot 35, "Construcción (boceto para el mural de St. Bois)" by Joaquin Torres-Garcia, oil on board, 21 5/8 by 33 1/8 inches, 1944

The cover illustration of the catalogue is Lot 35, "Construcción (boceto para el mural de St. Bois)," by Joaquin Torres-Garcia. The 21 5/8-by-33 1/8-inch oil on board, shown above, was executed in 1944 and has an estimate of $400,000 to $600,000. It sold for $446,000, which elicited a little bit of applause in the crowded auction room.

The painting has an interesting history and the catalogue provides the following commentary:

"In late 1943, Torres-Garcia was approached by the architects of a hospital being built for tubercular patients in Montevideo, to design thirty-four murals. For Torres-Garcia and the artists of his workshop school (Taller Torres-Garcia) this was a unique opportunity to achieve in practice his theory that Constructivism was the ideal style to incorporate into modern architecture.Determined to secure the mural project for Torres-Garcia, the physician-director and the architects intervened with the Ministry that approved the murals on the condition that the artists would not be paid. Torres-Garcia was then seventy years old and in failing health. Nonetheless, every day from May through the end of July 1944, an ambulance drove him and his students to the building site on the outskirts of Montevideo. He climbed the scaffolding braving the cold and damp winter to paint seven murals with enamel directly on the walls.The art critics declared them violent and aggressive and cautioned that the strident colors would disturb the sick who were in need of physical and spiritual repose. The debate for and against the murals that ensued in the press went on for months. By 1970, the seven murals by Torres-Garcia were in danger of being lost, threatened by the deterioration of the building. The Torres-Garcia Foundation funded their restoration; removed them from the walls and transferred them to canvas, they were donated to Montevideo's Museum of Visual Arts, where they were shown in a Torres-Garcia centenary retrospective in 1974. The following year, along with a large selection of Constructivist works by Torres-Garcia, the murals were exhibited in Paris. In July 1978, as part of the exhibition 'Geometria Sensivel' in Rio de Janeiro, 73 works by Torres-Garcia including the seven murals were destroyed by the fire that also consumed the entire collection of the Museum of Modern Art. This painting is Torres-Garcia's study for El Sol, the largest mural (over twenty feet long) of the project. This work is valuable not only because it is a testimony to the scope of the Constructivist muralist movement, and of its irreparable loss, but also because of its sheer originality. Torres-Garcia wrote that these paintings, which he defined as "concrete realism," were a new phase in modern art. By incorporating visual reality and the metaphysical-symbolic into a neoplasticist structure in primary colors, he achieved an overall view of the world. The large fish is out of scale in relation to the harbor scene below because it is an idea, the symbol for life. Torres-Garcia expressed how in his paintings there are some things that reason cannot explain, 'there is the fish, and a larger sign dominating everything. There is also a star, why? The spirit is a poet and one shouldn't question the poet.'"

The biggest surprise of the evening was Lot 69, "Meditator con expectativas," a pleasant landscape, acrylic on canvas, 23 7/8 by 17 7/8 inches. Painted in 2001, it was a donation of the artist and proceeds for its sale will be used as a charitable contribution to the SYDA Foundation (Sidda Yoga Dham Associates), a non-for-profit organization that administers courses on meditation, The estimate had an estimate of $40,000 to $45,000 and sold for $143,500. The auction room broke out into a lot of applause when Barbara Strongin, the auctioneer, finally knocked the lot down. Lot 70, a much larger and more dramatic oil on canvas by the same artist had an estimate of $100,000 to $150,000 and sold for $160,000.

Lot 29, "Sin titulo," is a fine painting by Angel Zarraga. The 36-by-38-inch oil on canvas was executed circa 1915 and has a conservative estimate of $180,000 to $200,000. It was withdrawn from the sale and exhibition. Zarraga lived for a while in Paris and the catalogue notes that "though his involvement in Cubism did not last long, he did in the short period of his fascination with the movement, produce some of his best works." "This untitled piece," it continued, "is certainly an extraordinary study for one of his known pieces of the Cubist period, La merienda de nos niñas, in which a subtly applied palette of greens and grays emit an atmosphere of intimacy between friends enjoying an afternoon snack. In this earlier work we see the same image from a greater distance, the edges and planes are less strongly defined and a darker palette of looser brushstrokes predominate. The work is a fascinating example of the artist's work process and serves to illustrate an intriguing moment in the conception of a work." This study is, in fact, a stronger work than the cited painting, which was completed in 1916, and is reproduced in color in the catalogue. The 1916 work's more colorful palette is pleasing but is slightly muted whereas the darker and more limited palette of this study lends it greater contrast and is more akin to its Cubist influences. This study, furthermore, appears more painterly and shows the entire table on which the china is arranged and it presents an important counterfoil to the composition's diagonals. The face of the front figure is particularly well done and strong.


Lot 61, "la estación III," by Armando Morales, oil on canvas, 63 3/4 by 79 1/8 inches, 1984

Armando Morales (b. 1927) is an artist who clearly admires the cool pastellish palette and painterliness of Tamayo and Lot 61, "La estación III," is a fine example of his work, which is characterized by an almost classical formality, softly dimmed early evening light, and complex compositions. Like Tamayo, his work is consistently outstanding and often mysterious. This oil on canvas measures 63 3/4 by 79 1/8 inches and was executed in 1984. It has an estimate of $300,000 to $350,000 and it shows some masked naked woman standing in front of an empty carriage beside several horses and curving railroad tracks with a locomotive in the upper left hand corner and an attractive railroad station building in the center background. It failed to sell and was "passed" at $220,000.

Lot 52, "Torero," is a more conventional work by Morales. Executed in 1996, it is an oil on canvas that measures 23 5/8 by 36 1/8 inches and has an estimate of $120,000 to $140,000. It sold for $127,000.


Lot 78, "Aviòn azul en la bañera," by Ignacio Iturria, oil on canvas, 39 3/8 by 51 1/8 inches, 1998

Lot 78, "Aviòn azul en la bañera," is a charming oil on canvas, 39 3/8 by 51 1/8 inches by Ignacio Iturria (b. 1949). Painted in 1998, it show a blue airplane flying low inside a half-filled bathtub in which three people are swimming/wading and looking up at the plane. It has an estimate of $28,000 to $30,000.

"Corona para una princesa Chibcha" by Maria Fernanda Cardoso

Lot 6, "Corona para una princesa Chibcha," by Maria Fernanda Cardoso, preserved lizards, wire and iron rod, 77 1/8 by 36 by 83 7/8 inches, 1990

Lot 6, "Corona para una princesa Chibcha," shown above, by Maria Fernanda Cardoso (b. 1963), is made of preserved lizards, wire and iron rod and measures 77 1/8 by 36 by 83 7/8 inches. Executed in 1990, it has an estimate of $10,000 to $15,000. It sold for $17,625, a world record auction price for this Colombian artist.

"In absentia, M.D." by Regina Silveira

Lot 13, "In absentia, M.D., " by Regina Silveira, adhesive vinyl and wooden base, variable dimensions

Lot 13, "In absentia, M.D.," is a adhesive vinyl and wooden base work of variable dimensions created by Regina Silveira (b. 1939). The work is unique and comes in CD format and the owner has the right to have the image reproduced. It has an estimate of $18,000 to $22,000. It sold for $17,625, a world record auction price for this Brazilian artist.

While it was not a strong auction for established "name" Latin American artists as indicated by the failure of the Kahlo still life and two good oils by Diego Rivera to sell, its contemporary works did well, and a total of 12 new world auction records for artists were set.

In addition to Cardoso and Silveira, records were set for the following artists: Jose Antonio Suarez (Colombian, b. 1955), $3,525; Marco Arce (Mexican, b. 1968), $9,400; Fabian Marcaccio (born in Argentina, b. 1963), $25,850; Pablo Siquier (Argentinian, b. 1961), $9,400; Victor Grippo (Argentinian, b. 1936), $21,150; Alfred Volpi (Brazilian, 1896-1988), $35,250; Julio Alpuy (Uruguayan/American, b. 1919),$52,975; Jose Gurvich (Lithuanian/Uruguayan, 1927-1974), $52,875; Dias Cicero (South American, b. 1907), $94,000; and Jose Clemente Orozco (Mexican, 1883-1949), for a work on paper by the artist, $32,900.

Use the Search Box below to quickly look up articles at this site on specific artists, architects, authors, buildings and other subjects

See The City Review article on the Spring 2001 Latin American Art auction at Sotheby's

See The City Review article on the Fall 2000 Latin American art auction at Christie's

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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