Art auction at Christie's is highlighted by a great Rufino Tamayo
(1899-1991), a very vibrant Matta (b. 1911), and excellent works
by Wilfredo Lam (1902-1982), Leonora Carrington (b. 1917), and
Fernando Botero (b. 1932).
20, "La Tierra Promedita (Israel de hoy)," is a spectacular
and beautiful oil and sand on canvas by Rufino Tamayo. Painted
in 1963, it measures 78 ¾ by 249 ½ inches and has
a conservative estimate of $1,000,000 to $1,500,000. It
to sell and was passed at $600,000, but Ana Sokoloff, head of
the department, indicated after the auction that its great size
probably limited the number of potential bidders and that it might
become an after-sale. The well-attended sale was not very successful
with only about 58 percent of the 57 offered lots selling.
The catalogue provides the following commentary on this lot by
Juan Carlos Pereda:
"In 1962, Rufino Tamayo visited Jerusalem to attend the opening
of a retrospective of his work at the Betzalem Museum, which later
traveled to the Museum of Modern Art in Haifa and the Helena Rubenstein
Pavilion in Tel Aviv. The retrospective was received with much
critical acclaim and led the ZIM Navigation Company to commission
two murals from Tamayo for the luxurious transatlantic ocean liner,
Shalom, which was in construction at the French
of Saint-Nazaire. The artist chose the theme Nada del
de Neguev (Nothing of the Neguev Desert) and Todo
vida laboriosa, agricola, commercial e industrial de Israel
(All about the laborious life, agriculture, commercial and industrial
Israel) later simplifying the respective titles to Israel de
ayer (Israel of yesterday) and Israel de hoy
Yesterday). The murals, each two by six meters, together presented
a didactic vision of the physical history of Israel two views
which contrasted greatly in color, structure and significance
and with great symbolic richness highlighted the triumph of the
Israelis over the desert lands. The Galeria Misrachi showed the
two murals first to the Mexican public before they went to Japan
as part of a larger retrospective that traveled to three cities
in that country. Upon completion of the tour they were hung in
the elegant reception rooms of the Shalom where they would remain
for more than twenty years. When the boat was later taken out
of commission the two murals were separated. Unfortunately, Israel
de ayer apparently disappeared and information suggests that
it was fragmented. In the lost mural, Israel de ayer,
expressed the sense of the indomitable desert and its association
with antiquity. In the canvas Tamayo unveils a landscape in which
nature has imposed a hostile geography on man painted in heraldic
tones of reds and yellows of various scales and tones, revealing
the mountains, boulders, and valleys bleached by the intense sun.
The entire landscape is free from man's touch and generally wanting
of life. In the surviving mural Israel de hoy
the victory of man's ingenuity, heralding the land revitalised
by the arduous work of the people against the desert, converting
it in to fields, farms and gardens. In this promised land, at
the edge of the Neguev Desert, there are as well the budding industries
of Israel, the factories and hydraulic power stations. The hand
of man is unescapable in the depiction of Modern Israel. Separating
the mural has not lessened its significance, nor limited the vigor
of the revolutionary concepts intrinsic to the Mexican Muralists
captured in the work its magnificence reaffirms the value of landscape
through aesthetics. Underl[y]ing the landscape is its symbolic
meaning as the true strength of Israel, their land. The great
evocative power of Tamayo's palette, employing local color, and
his enormous poetic capacity to transform the picture space into
planes allows him to simultaneously capture a low horizon as well
as the skies above as though seen from an airplane. The airplane
itself is included as a stylized white mass at the center of the
composition. All of the elements here reinforce the uplifting
testament of the strength of the human will, which with ingeniousness
and work can overcome the adversities dispensed by nature a will
that can also achieve great beauty of form and color, which the
artist exalts as the unifying theme of the mural. The color greens,
grays, sepias and reds [-] are contrasted with the white apparatus
which appears at the center of the canvas, allowing for relief
from the abundant use of color as well as providing contrast.
The composition possesses the virtuous harmony with which the
colorist Tamayo imprints all his work. He displays his innate
understanding of the richness and diversity in tonalities in color,
how delicate changes in color can transmit the humid atmosphere
and freshness of cultivated lands. With visual arts values of
the most elevated hierarchy Tamayo was able to realize with this
work a new chapter in the prestigious and historic genre of landscape
The striking painting, which illustrates both the front and back
covers of the catalogue, is a masterpiece of 20th Century art.
A more conventional
and classic, albeit very strong, Tamayo is Lot 31, "Dos mujeres,"
an oil and sand on canvas that measures 51 ½ by 38 ¼
inches. Painted in 1968, it shows two standing figures against
a very vibrant red and pink and yellow background. It has a
estimate of $300,000 to $400,000. It sold for $559,500,
the buyer's premium as do all results mentioned in this article.
"Los vendors de pescado," shows Tamayo in a different
mood and style. Executed in 1972, the 42 ¼-by-50 1/8-inch
oil on canvas shows two fish peddlers talking over their boxes
of fish and has an unusual and interesting palette of blue-greens
and grays. It has an estimate of $300,000 to $400,000. It
since Kandinsky has more dynamic energy in his compositions than
Matta and Lot 14, "The Ecclectrician," is a particularly
strong and very bold work by him that measures 55 by 77 inches
and was executed in 1945. The lot has a conservative estimate
of $400,000 to $600,000. It sold for $669,500.
The catalogue entry for this lot notes that the artist represented
flux through the use of lines and forms and the "mechanization
of humankind and its inner struggle through totemic figures of
sculptural presence," adding that this painting "reflects
the artist's interest in primitive ritual, depicted by the imposing
figure, and Matta's commentary on the dehumanizing effects of
modern technology." It also stated that this painting and
A Grave Situation, which is in the collection of
of Contemporary Art in Chicago, represent the culmination in painting
of Matta's existential concerns of modern moan in today's world,
and the role of art as an act that requires an act of consciousnsess
on the part of the viewer for its full understanding."
"A Elizabeth," is another very strong Surrealist work
by Matta. It is a colored crayons and pencil on paper that was
drawn in 1938. It measures 19 ½ by 25 ¾ inches and
has an estimate of $120,000 to $140,000. It sold for $218,500.
Carrington is another major Surrealist painter. Lot 5, "Pig
Pig Bite Snake," is a good example of her whimsy. It is a
16 1/8-by-36-inch oil on masonite that was painted in 1951. It
has an estimate of $120,000 to $140,000. It failed to sell
and was passed at $80,000.
Lot 15 is
another Carrington entitled "Los visitants (The Visitors)."
Painted in 1960, it measures 39 ½ by 31 5/8 inches and
has an estimate of $150,000 to $200,000. It sold for $163,500.
One of the
finest and most important works by Wilfredo Lam to appear on the
auction market in recent years, albeit one with some condition
problems, is Lot 25, "La Sierra Maestra," a 99 ¼-by-124-inch
oil on paper laid down on canvas. Executed in 1959, it has an
estimate of $400,000 to $600,000. It failed to sell and was
passed at $280,000. Ms. Sokoloff suggested after the sale that
its size, like the large Tamayo's, might have made some potential
The catalogue provides the following commentary:
"The name of the present painting, La Sierra Maestra,
is also the one given to the highest mountain range in Cuba, located
in the Southeast of the island.In the late 1950s, Fidel Castro
had his base of operations in these mountains.On January 1st,
1959. the year Sierra Maestra was painted, the
Havana witnessed the inauguration of Fidel Castro as Supreme Commander
of Cuba. That the painting cannot escape its political and historical
connotations is echoed in its composition. The persistence of
angular elements evoking bellicose associations is further heightened
by a sense of masculine energy, as if a hunting scene were to
be unraveling in front of us. The overwhelming effect of these
angular elements is interestingly opposed with the presence of
a lone circular form barely discernible in the distant background.
The isolated figure, the only passive element, is protected from
the aggressive cutting and slashing that takes place in the rest
of the composition. Energy is concentrated at the center of the
composition while the edges have been left untreated. Overall,
the work is painted in earthy tones and monochromatic shades of
black, brown, and oranges, reminding us of tangible rather than
of spiritual concerns. As we trace the construction of the piece
from every angle, strong lines prove to be relentlessly confident
in both their physicality and direction. There is absolutely no
doubt of their purpose and the need for existing in the exact
number and location where they have been positioned. Lam conceived
La Sierra Maestra after a series of large-scale
collectively entitled the Brousses, a group of
inspired by dense networks of sugar cane stalks which he used
as the base for his imagery.Though the interconnectedness of its
elements acts as a less obstrusive barrier than in this earlier
period, La Sierra Maestra continues to present
an enclosed, scaled area with a dynamic epicenter that exists
directly in front of the viewer. The planes do not unlock nor
do they relent. Similarly present in this work is the role of
Santera, one of the many African-derived religions
from the Antilles to Brazil. Saneria is a `syncretic religion
devised by slaves in Cuba, who merged their forbidden animist
deities with Roman Catholic saints.'That Lam had been deeply immersed
in Santeria beliefs and practices is evident in his selection
of recurrent elements such as scissors, knives, and daggers. `These
metal implements allude to Oggun, the god of iron and, therefore,
of farmers and warriors' warriors such as the ones hiding in the
mountains of the Sierra Maestra and who would help determine the
fate of Cuba.Today, more than five decades later, La Sierra
Maestra continues to capture the complexity of this moment
and perpetuates, in his powerful and proud nature, the personality
of the Cuban people." (The quotations in the above quotation
are from V. Fletcher's 1992 catalogue essay on the artist in the
"Crosscurrents of Modernism: Four Latin American Pioneers"
exhibition at the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, published
by The Smithsonian Institution Press.)
"Dona asseguda," is another fine Lam in which he shows
a seated woman in the Cubist style of Picasso. Painted in 1940,
the oil on paper laid down on canvas measures 42 1/8 by 34 1/8
inches and has an estimate of $150,000 to $200,000. It sold
for $317,500. The fact that this and some of the other Tamayos
did well indicated that these very fine artists had not fallen
out of favor.
"La pica," is a wonderful bullfight scene by Fernando
Botero, an artist with an exuberant and inexhaustible style. The
52 ½-by 61-inch oil on canvas was painted in 1984 and has
an estimate of $400,000 to $600,000. It failed to sell and
was passed at $320,000.
one of the rare artists who is equally brilliant in paintings
and sculpture. Lot 21, "Caballo," is a very handsome
bronze sculpture of a horse that is 19 5/8 inches high. Executed
in 1999, it is from an edition of six and has an estimate of $150,000
to $200,000. It sold for $229,500.
fine sculpture is Lot 85, "Sin Titulo," by Agustin Cardenas
(1927-2001). The 15 ½-inch high white marble abstraction
is very sinuous and was executed in 1974. It has an estimate of
$30,000 to $40,000. It failed to sell.
"Double-sided screen," is a strong work by David Alfaro
Siqueiros (1896-1974), one of the strongest of all Latin American
artists. The six-panel screen measures 14 ½ by 31 1/8 inches
and was painted in 1962 and is a lush landscape scene. It has
a modest estimate of $20,000 to $30,000. It sold for $38,240.
Lot 23, "Vendedores de grano," is a fine watercolor
on rice paper, 10 7/8 by 15 inches by Diego Rivera (1886-1957).
The scene of grain sellers was painted in 1934 and has a modest
estimate of $28,000 to $32,000. It sold
"Elefante y jirafa," is a very charming painting of
an Elegant in a horizontal space with drawings of giraffes of
the rear wall of the space by Ignacio Iturria (b. 1939). The 20
¼-by-78-inch oil on canvas was painted circa 1995 has a
modest estimate of $25,000 to $30,000. It sold for $23,900.
Iturria's child-like subjects have the allure of Joseph
constructions and Surrealistic fantasy and this is one of his
Bravo (b. 1936) is a major painter of still lifes and Lot 123
is a very cool and lovely colored pencil and charcoal on paper
by him of a bamboo vase with wild flowers. Drawn in 1990, it measures
30 ¼ by 22 inches and has an estimate of $30,000 to $50,000.
It sold for $29,875.
Lot 44, "Pinturas neoconcretas," consists of three temperas
on paper, each 6 7/8 by 4 ¾ inches by Helio Oiticia (1937-1980).
These are very handsome abstractions, painted in 1960 that recall
the work of Piet Mondrian and Kasimir Malevich and are very strong.
The lot has a modest estimate of $20,000 to $25,000. It sold
"Inés en mis suenos," is a very beautiful and
impressive portrait of a woman by Francisco Rodon (b. 1934). The
oil on canvas measures 87 by 65 inches and was painted 1996-2002.
It has an estimate of $220,000 to $260,000. It sold for
breaking the previous world auction record for the artist of $189,500
set at Sotheby's in New York Nov. 23, 1999.
auction records for artists were set: Lot 43, "Fachada,"
by Alfredo Volpi sold for $47,800, breaking the artist's former
record of $35,250 set at Christie's May 30, 2001; and Lot 55,
"Woven Water," by Maria Fernanda Cardoso, sold for $22,705,
breaking the artist's former auction record of $17,625, also set
at Christie's last May.
Lot 4, "El
conejo fumigador," is a very strong work by Francisco Toledo
(b. 1940) that appears to depict a rabbit against a background
of fans. The gouache and pen on paper measures 22 3/8 by 30 ¼
inches and was executed in 1979. It has an estimate of $80,000
to $100,000. It sold for $218,500 eliciting a burst of
in the auction room.
Lot 2, "Perder
el paraiso," is a good landscape by Tomas Sanchez (b. 1948).
It measures 21 7/8 by 28 inches and is an acrylic on canvas. It
was executed in 2001 and has an estimate of $50,000 to $60,000.
It sold for $57,360. Proceeds from its sale will
as a charitable contribution to the SYDA (Siddha Yoga Dham Associates)
Foundation that administers the presentation of programs and courses
on Siddha Yoga meditation.
One of the
best works in the auction is Lot 57, "Requieum for the Unknown
Pedestrian," by Betsabee Romero (b. 1963).
10 rubber tires in this lot, which was executed in 2002 and has
a modest estimate of $15,000 to $20,000. It sold for $14,340.