Carter B. Horsley
Latin American Art auction at Sotheby's May 31, 2001, is highlighted
by excellent examples of three great women artists - Frida Kahlo
(1907-1954), Remedios Varo (1908-1963) and Leonora Carrington
(b. 1917) - as well as a good selection of other prominent and
very imaginative artists such as Rufino Tamayo (1899-1991), Matta
(b. 1911), and Ignacio Iturria (b. 1949).
works in the auction are by Daniel Senise (b. 1955), Gunther Gerzso
(1915-2000), David Alfaro Siqueiros (1896-1974).
illustration of the catalogue is Lot 15, "Portrait of Cristina,
My Sister," shown above, by Frida Kahlo. The 31 1/8-by-23
5/8-inch oil on panel is dated 1928 and has an estimate of $900,000
to $1,200,000. It sold for $1,655,750 including the buyer's
premium as do all results mentioned in this article. In 1988,
the painting was sold at Sotheby's for $198,000.
portrait is extraordinary for its mixture of primness and sensuality,"
the catalogue entry by Hayden Herrera for the lot maintained,
adding that the artist had once described "Cristi" as
"the chubby one" of her three sisters.
there was sibling rivalry between the two youngest Kahlo girls,
Cristina was Frida's closest companion through most of her life.Frida
Kahlo had only been painting for two years when she embarked on
her sister's portrait. She began to paint in 1926 while recuperating
from a near fatal bus accident. By 1928, Kahlo had recovered from
the accident enough to be able to walk with just a slight limp.
She could go out in the world, and she was now determined to make
a living through art. Indeed, it was in this year that she took
four of her first paintings to the Ministry of Education, where
Diego Rivera was painting murals, and demanded that he tell her
whether it was worth her while to go on painting. Rivera's answer
was yes. In his autobiography, he wrote that the works Frida showed
him that day (which may have included Portrait of Cristina,
my sister) 'revealed an unusual energy of expression, precise
delineation of character, and true severity. They had a fundamental
plastic honesty, and an artistic personality of their own. They
communicated a vital sensuality, complimented by a merciless yet
sensitive power of observation. It was obvious to me that this
girl was an authentic artist.' Rivera was a s taken with the artist
as he was with her art. After a period of courtship, he and Frida
married.Curiously, Frida inserted a wooden panel into a stretcher
frame and painted over both, so that the stretcher becomes a kind
of interior frame. This makes Portrait of Cristina
first of several instances in which Frida extended her painted
image out into the frame. If Portrait of Cristina, my sister
does not have the fierce intensity we associate with Frida Kahlo's
self-portraits, it does have a special vibrancy - a kind of electric
charge. As in many of Frida's paintings, the drawing is somewhat
primitive. Frida chose primitivism as a way of expressing her
solidarity with the folk traditions of the Mexican people. Cristina's
portrait is naïve and knowing at the same time. The face
is realized in minute detail. The branch, with its nine succulent
leaves, seem to allude to Cristina's sexuality, a sexuality underscored
by Cristina's low cut dress. The same year that Frida Kahlo painted
Cristina, she persuaded her sister to pose nude for Rivera. Although
Frida's portrait is proper and chaste compared to Rivera's frescoes,
the juxtaposition of Cristina in her pure white dress with the
vulval leaves suggests the temptation of Eve. And Cristina was
tempted; her love affair with Diego Rivera six years later caused
Frida more pain than any of Rivera's other philandering."
than 78 percent of the 55 offered lots in the evening section
of this auction for a total of $7,189,0675. The pre-sale estimate
for the evening session was $6,200,000 to $8,100,000.
Varo is one of Latin America's other great women artists. Lot
28, "El Camino Árido," a 28-by-8 3/8-inch vinyl
resin on thin board mounted on masonite, is a wonderful work by
her that was painted in 1962. Widely exhibited and published,
it has a conservative estimate of $175,000 to $225,000. It
sold for $236,750.
the year before death," the catalogue entry for the lot observed,
"Remedios Vario's Camino árido may well be
the artist's swan song. In point of craft she was never better;
the delicate draftsmanship and subtle brushwork that characterize
her best paintings are here married to a pulsating spirituality,
causing the painting to glow with an inner life. Varo's search
for enlightenment included eastern hermetic philosophy, and is
suggested by the allusion to Chinese landscape paintings in the
rendering of the cloudy mountaintops that form the backdrop to
Camino árido.Camino árido may
be best understood as the pendant to a work of the previous year,
La Llamada or The Call
(private collection). A frequent
figure in these late works is a mystical sage - often Varo's own
self-portrait - trying to engage, energize, enlighten a mass of
respectful but static disciples. "
in this work is a beautiful, ghostly figure wearing a sensational
dress and cape seemingly made out of luminous layers of stones.
She walks with a cane and is very erect and thin. Small rocks
seem to be either falling or rising at her side. The foreground
consists of many layers of rock, echoing the layers of her dress.
This is a haunting work of mystery and beauty and one of the best
paintings to be offered this spring auction season.
Carrington is another great Latin American woman artist and Lot
10, "Faet Fiada (The Appearance of a Wild Beast," shown
above, is an example example of her work. The 35 7/8-by-21 5/8-inch
oil on panel is dated 1951 and has a modest estimate of $90,000
to $120,000. It sold for $92,750. Carrington is an
surrealist whose best works combine eerie drama with intriguing
creatures/characters in loosely defined and usually mysterious
provides the following fine, brief essay by Susan Aberth on this
The Appearance of a Wild Beast Leonora Carrington
the veil of ordinary sight, permitting us a momentary glimpse
into another dimension where the near and far have collapsed into
a nebulous atmosphere of verdant green. Inhabited by ghostly figures
- animal, human and combinations thereof- the identity of the
intruding wild beast in question is, delightfully, an unanswerable
query. The two scepter-bearing figures in the left foreground
are reminiscent of, respectively, the Egyptian horned cow-goddess
Hathor and the jackal-headed Anubis, a correlation further suggested
by their static frontal and profile poses. The diminutive figure
clutching at both, with its lacy spider web head, lends the appearance
of a family unit to this group. The humanoid persona on the right,
whose hair and cloak have merged into a fleecy bestial pelt, raises
an arm in a gesture more beckoning than rhetorical. Locked in
a stare of wordless communication, the psychic intensity of these
two central figures is palpable. During the early 1950s Carrington
executed a number of paintings in a style similar to this one,
which are characterized by the use of a luminous single-colored
background. Captured under a nocturnal light, the hieroglyphic-like
figures in these works are often frozen in gestures evocative
of both ritual and dialogue and are placed in spaces that deny
traditional three-dimensionality. As always, caution is advised
for the viewer attempting to decipher this work. For within the
pictorial world of Leonora Carrington, let all those who make
composition is quite unusual with the top half devoted to a dreamy,
bucolic landscape and the bottom an asymmetrical grouping of figures
with mysterious objects between them. There is enormous charm
in the figures' dainty formality and great calm in the stillness
of the "landscape." The "diminutive" figure
in the foreground is both curious and fascinating, protected and
marvelous Carrington is Lot 34, "Les Chats," shown above,
a 18 1/8-by-15-inch oil on panel that was painted circa 1940.
has again written a fine, perceptive, catalogue essay with the
following commentary on this lot:
a red sky and within a rough-hewn archaic arena, a battle of some
sort is being waged. Spilled blood is everywhere while in the
foreground the severed body parts of one of the cat-like creatures
testifies to a recent casualty. Although scenes of violence are
rare in the paintings of Leonora Carrington, they are more common
in her literary works where characters often reveal, and revel
in, their animal natures. As in many of Carrington's paintings,
there is a staged quality to this scene, reminding us that the
artist has had a life-long involvement with the theater as a
scenographer, and costume designer. Reclining, sitting, standing,
the cats belie their relaxed poses by all staring ahead, with
rapt attention, creating an air of heightened expectancy. Their
spectral white bodies, lit by a pearly lunar glow, are oddly surmounted
by black, mask-like faces, with features crudely delineated in
red by the most economic means. This expressive inscrutability
adds to the aura of mystery clinging to this primitive theater
of cruelty, reminding us that the rules to this game are not meant
for us to know. Indebted to Surrealism, yet with a completely
unique personal vision, Carrington has always possessed the ability
to construct alternate worlds, both fantastical and believable.
Borrowing freely yet subtly from archaeological, mythological
and art historical sources, in works such as Les Chats,
she nonetheless eschews the trappings of pictorial quotations.
Lacking the chaos of spontaneous conflict, the artist has instead
managed to suggest the solemn dignity of an ancient ritual game.
Her fabulous beasts are not so much about the fearsome powers
of nature but of its creative potentialities."
lot has an estimate of $100,000 to $150,000. It
sold for $148,750.
is a modern Bosch, but less gruesome, and more feminine.
Iturria is an artist who delights in dark paintings of crude structures
with tiny, toy-like figures. Lot 48, shown above, is a fine example.
Entitled "Sin Titulo," it is a 52-by-72-inch oil on
canvas that is dated 1993. It has an estimate of $45,000 to $55,000.
It sold for $46,750. The tall giraffe in the
not seem perturbed by the monkey climbing its very, very long
neck, and the front face of the geometric construction in which
the giraffe is standing has drawings of an elephant and a lion.
with similar "stage-set" temperament is Guillermo Kuitca
(b. 1961) and Lot 44, "Vaga Idea de Una Pasión,"
is a fine example of his work. The 68 1/4-by-49 1/4-inch acrylic
and oil on canvas was painted in 1885 and has an estimate of $125,000
to $175,000. It failed to sell and was passed at $95,000.
works in the auction bear the deep stamps of Latin American culture.
One of the
most striking works in the auction is Lot 47, which is untitled,
by Daniel Senise. The 72 5/8-by 94 1/2-inch acrylic on canvas,
shown above, appears as the under-painting for an Italian Renaissance
painting of "The Annunciation." The outlines of a vaulted
room are clear but faint, but the masses of St. Gabriel and the
Virgin are shown prominently as if they had been painted in gold,
which had then been rubbed off. It is a striking "ruin"
that is haunting and evocative, and its subject matter no doubt
will not be lost on the many Catholics of Latin America. It has
a conservative estimate of $10,000 to $15,000. It sold for
"The Rape of Fame," by Benjamin Cañas (1933-1987),
is another interesting work that draws on European mythology.
A sweatered man who bears a resemblance to Picasso is snuggling
with a huge naked woman who may be asleep while a woman in red
wearing a hat tugs at bearing apart the naked woman's legs. The
woman is astride what appears to be a large butcher's block on
one side of which is stuck a paper label. The women's pose is
very foreshortened and dramatic and one that Michelangelo might
have pondered. The lot has an estimate of $90,000 to $120,000.
It sold for $104,250.
Siqueiros is represented in the auction by several works including
Lots 101, "Volcán," and 129, "El Náhuatl."
The former is a 32 1/4-by-12-inch pryoxylin on paper that was
executed in 1969 and has an estimate of $25,000 to $30,000. The
latter is a 31 7/8-by-23 7/8-inch pryoxylin on panel that was
executed in 1965 and has an estimate of $80,000 to $100,000. It
shows a person reeling back from a ferocious attacking animal.
Both of these are typically strong and boldly painted.
shown above, is a more interesting Siqueiros. Entitled "Estudio
para Escenografía (Ballet)," it is a pryoxylin on
masonite, 24 by 25 1/2 inches. Executed in 1949, it has a conservative
estimate of $50,000 to $60,000. It sold for $55,375.
painting shows three large groups of swirling dancers in the lower
half of the picture performing on a rocky promontory beneath a
dramatically colored sky of very broad brushstrokes.
Siqueiros is best known for his strikingly assertive, almost brutish
compositions and limited but strong palettes mostly of yellows
and browns and blacks, Lot 26, "El Secreto," demonstrates
that he could be intrigued by Rembrandtesque chiaroscuro. The
19-by-23 3/4-inch pyroxylin on masonite was executed in 1939 and
has an estimate of $90,000 to $120,000. It failed to sell and
was "passed" at $65,000. The work has overtones
not only of Rembrandt but also of Daumier and Roualt. Carmen Melián,
one of Sotheby's experts, said after the auction that Sotheby's
was "disappointed" that it did not sell since it was
a "wonderful" painting.
provides the following commentary:
not to paint new pictures until fascism was defeated in Europe,
Siqueiros traveled to Spain in 1937 to aid the Communist Party
during the Spanish Civil War. He returned in 1938 to a Mexico
that, beyond being a center of asylum for refugees from war torn
Europe, had become 'a nest of spies and - like Paris in the middle
of the decade - a crucial center of operations.' [quotation from
Oliver Debroise, "Action Art," Portrait of a Decade,
David Alfaro Siqueiros (1930-1940)]. Siqueiros was very
in the undercover operations of Spanish and Soviet Communist groups
in Mexico, culminating in his involvement in the attempted murder
of Leon Trotsky at his home in Mexico City in 1940. Painting in
the midst of these clandestine plots and activities, El
reflects the climate of paranoia that surrounded the artist and
his circle. With the victory of facism in Spain in 1939, Siqueiros
broke his pledge of 1937 and returned to painting, in large part
due to a commission of several works for a solo exhibition at
the Pierre Matisse Gallery in New York. In contrast to much of
the artist's work from the first part of the decade, many of these
new easel paintings turned away from the representation of historical
events, focusing instead on universal views of the human condition.
El Secreto captures a sense of uncertainty and
doom for the wartime era, closing in on two figures sharing a
secret while anonymous faces loom in the background. Though seemingly
youthful in the shape of their heads and hands, Siqueiros has
imbued the central figures with ancient, troubled eyes in his
heavy-handed chiaroscuro treatment of their brows. His limited
palette of muddied browns and reds envelops the figures within
the clandestine, troubled atmosphere in which the artist was engulfed
at that time."
more than any other Latin American artist, Rufino Tamayo
encapsulates the earthiness and heat of Latin American and melds
them into extremely painterly abstractions of fabulous color.
"Hombre Rodeado de Pájaros," shown above, is
a strong example of his work. The 51 1/4-by-38 3/8-inch oil and
sand on canvas was executed in 1965 and has an estimate of $250,000
to $300,000. It sold for $258,750 to a Mexican collector.
Considerably more defined than many of his works, it is also a
bit unusual in his oeuvre for its composition that is not completely
contained within the picture but seems to broach its borders.
This work almost seems to mix stylistic elements of Mark Rothko,
Philip Guston, Franz Kline and Jean Dubuffet, resulting in a
supercharged, volcanic "moment." Tamayo, of course,
is not given to pyrotechnic outbursts but his works are sublimely
"Serenata a La Luna," a very striking dark Tamayo, 63
1/4 by 30 inches, oil on canvas, sold for $599,750, just $250
short of its low estimate.
Tamayo, Lot 22, "Vendedor de Sandias," a 5 3/8-by-26-inch
gouache on paper, sold for $87,000, almost twice its high estimate.
The very handsome painting of a man and watermelons was executed
"Morphology of Desire," is an important work by Matta
that was painted in 1938 and became the first of his paintings
to be reproduced in color when it appear in the Surrealist review
Minotaure No. 12-13 in 1939. The 28 3/4-by-36
oil on canvas has been widely exhibited and published and has
a conservative estimate of $600,000 to $800,000. It sold for
$583,250 to a New York collector. A large detail of it, shown
above, is the back cover illustration of the catalogue.
notes that Matta first covered the canvas with a thin ground of
warm and cool greys and then placed small amounts of different
colors next to each other along a palette knife and quickly painted
in the four "elements" of his composition which included
a stone at the lower right, a bird at the upper right, a person
on the left and an "architectural construction" in the
center bottom. The artist had been influenced at the time by the
writings by Elie Faure, a French art critic, who had suggested
that in every masterpiece there should be four main components.
contemplated the painting and the relationships in it of the four
components and with brushes and fingers continue to finish the
provides the following commentary in the catalogue on the lot:
stone is shown in its life-span as it became transformed from
gaseous, to liquid to solid state, being shaped by the give and
take from the environment near and farThe bird is shown in song,
in silence, in flight, in nesting, in migration, in relation to
other forms of life. The life of a bird shown in a single form.The
pink and red human being shows a drama of human relations, the
interaction of matter and mind, the continual dance of events
with other human beings and Mother Earth. All told in a single
form. The architectural construction is shown as an essence of
straight lines and auras in impact with the environment and human
evolution. Finally there are the relationships between the four
components of the painting that in this space-time become visible
and taken on subtle forms.The technical aspects of Matta's palette
knife gestures of paint were an immediate influence on Action
Painting and Abstract Expressionism that appeared in New York
City in the 1940s."
had suggested that Matta paint with oils in 1938. Matta was an
architect who worked in the studio of Le Corbusier in Paris and
became interested in Surrealism to such an extent that he abandoned
architecture to experiment, first, with collage and drawing. He
went out to create, the catalogue entry notes, "mathematically
derived landscapesbased on the algebraic models of the mathematicism
Jules-Henri Poincaré. The work of photographers Blossfeldt
and Renger-Patsch, who captured the cell during mitosis, also
caught the attention of Matta. In 1938 Matta took Surrealism a
step further, by depicting the world beyond dreams and the working
state. He called this world Psychological Morphology. The term
Pscyhological Morpohogy describes an adventure
alternative reality with its own space-time. In conjunction with
the Surrealists André Breton, Yves Tanguy, Max Ernst, André
Masson, Matta and Gordon Onslow-Ford left Paris for the United
States during World War II. It was the arrival of these exiles
and émigrés that heralded the transition of the
center of the art world to New York."
"La Ciudalela," by Gunther Gerzso is a fine abstraction
that conjures urban density, and the works of Yves Tanguy, Matta,
Mark Tobey, and Bradley Tomlin Walker. The 19 3/4-by-28 3/4-inch
oil on masonite is dated 1949 and has an estimate of $50,000 to
$70,000. It sold for $52,500. Gerzso is one of the
Latin American modern masters of abstraction whose works are
by very fine finishes and textures.
"Florero," a large floral still life with bees aflutter
and a small puffy hand grasping the handle of the large vase by
Fernando Botero (b. 1932) sold for $473,250 soaring past its high
estimate of $275,000. A very large bronze sculpture of a woman's
torso by Botero, Lot 19, sold within its estimate for $418,250.
"Prueba de Nuevo (de la serie Los Monstruos)," by Jorge
de la Vega (1930-1971), sold for $335,750 setting a new auction
record for the artist. Kristen Hammer, one of Sotheby's experts,
said after the auction that the painting came from "a good
European collection, was totally fresh to the market, came from
his best period and was one his strongest works of that period."
"Vista del Valle de Caracas Desde El Canvario," a 25
1/4-by-56 3/4-inch oil on canvas, by Manuel Cabré (1890-1983),
sold for $148,750 setting a new auction record for the artist.
The very handsome landscape had been estimated at $100,000 to
$150,000 and his previous auction record was $60,000. It was painted
was generally successful and the Kahlo, the Botero and the de
la Vega paintings elicited considerable applause. Indeed, the
three outbreaks of applause at the fall of the auctioneer's hammer
were the most of any of this season's major auctions.
"L'Orange Coupée," a 14-by-16 1/8-inch oil by
Angel Zárraga (1886-1946), sold for $72,625, way over its
high estimate of $30,000. The still life was beautiful and vibrant.
floral still life by Claudio Bravo (b. 1936), Lot 14, "Oquideas,"
a very impressive pastel on paper 31 1/4 by 34 1/2 inches, was
estimated at $70,000 to $90,000 and was "passed" at