Carter B. Horsley
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).
"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.
provides the following commentary on this lot:
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."
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.
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.
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,
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
painting is part of the National Heritage of Mexico and cannot
be removed from that country and is being offered for sale from
"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
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.
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.
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.
drawing, shown above is wonderful, and the lot has a very conservative
estimate of $80,000 to $100,000. It sold for $76,375.
"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.
"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.
"Madre feliz," is a 49 1/2-by-39 5/8-inch oil on canvas,
shown above, that Tamayo executed in 1949.
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:
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
achieved that the effect is one of immediate infinite warmth,
the kind of warmth that can only come from the heart."
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.
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
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.
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
has an interesting history and the catalogue provides the following
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
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.
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.'"
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.
"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
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.
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.
"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
"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
Lot 6, "Corona para una
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
"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.
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.
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.