evening auction of Latin American Art at Christie's May 28, 2003
is highlighted by several very fine works paintings by Matta
the influential Surrealist, and a fine work by Leonora Carrington
Lot 28, "The Morphology of Desire," shown above, is
a particularly vibrant and powerful Matta. An oil on canvas, it
measures 28 ¾ by 36 1/8 inches. Executed in 1938, it has
an estimate of $700,000 to $900,000. It sold for $735,500
the buyer's premium as do all results mentioned in this article.
total was $4,696,725, considerably short of the pre-auction low
estimate of $5,600,000. Less than two-thirds of the 55 offered
lots were sold.
"Endless Nudes," is an unusual Matta in that elements
of the human body can be discerned. Consigned by The Seagram
it was once in the collection of Philip Johnson and Associates.
An oil on canvas, it measures 28 ½ by 36 inches and was
executed 1941-2. It has an estimate of $1,000,000 to $1,500,000.
It sold for $1,687,500, the highest lot of the auction.
The catalogue provides the following commentary on this work by
"In Endless Nudes the movement of paint, handled
Matta's characteristic ease and fluency, stands for the rhythms
of the human organism. Pigment is first poured and then rubbed
with rags in a free improvisational manner. Matta was a proponent
of the Surrealist technique of `psychic automatism,' a kind of
visual stream of consciousness that aimed to go beyond habit and
rational thinking and to discover the `real functioning of the
mind.' After laying down broad areas of color, Matta applied
veils of white, which he called `a caress.' His brush unearthed
shapes in the movement of the paint and transformed these shapes
into precise, yet ambiguous biomorphs. Endless Nudes
us into a uterine landscape where sinking and swelling forms suggest
themes of germination and birth. Because Matta has not yet abandoned
the horizon line in Endless Nudes, there is an
of earth and sky, but both spheres are full of fleshy folds that
sometimes become nude bodies. On the lower right, just on the
threshold of recognition, is a recumbent embracing couple. In
the sky above them the movement of clouds creates what looks like
a male torso seen from the back and, lying beside him, must be
a female. (We see only her bent knee.) The painting's orgiastic
energy also belongs to the mineral world: in spring 1941 Matta
traveled to Mexico where he was impressed with the brilliance
of color and light and where he witnessed the birth of the volcano
Paricutin. The paintings he made upon his return to New York reflect
his apprehension of the earth's terrifying power, a power that
echoed his own spiritual eruptions: dreams, he said, are `images
of our volcanic experiences.' And, beyond that, Endless Nudes'
upheaval of form and its lava flow of color was perhaps also a
response to the cataclysm of war. Matta's genius lay in his ability
to keep us reinventing his fantastic landscapes"
"Composicion," is an interesting Matta because it is
relatively spartan in its use of biomorphic forms and it is a
very dramatic vertical composition. An oil on canvas, it measures
56 ¼ by 49 inches. Executed in 1948, it has a modest estimate
of $100,000 to $150,000. It sold for $214,700.
Mattas are Lots 113 and 114, both untitled and executed circa
1950. Both works have modest estimates of $40,000 to $60,000 and
are color crayon, pastel and watercolor on vellum paper. The former
measures 19 ¼ by 26 ¾ inches. The latter measures
19 by 28 inches. These are forceful, energetic and very dynamic
works. Both works were withdrawn.
is an unusual Matta in use of a black background. Entitled "Lettre
sur la bombe atomique," it is colored chalk with paper collage
on black paper. It measures 14 ¼ by 19 inches and was drawn
in 1944-5. It was used as a maquette for the cover of the book
Lettres sur la bombe atomique by Denis de Rougemont in 1945. It
has a modest estimate of $22,000 to $28,000. It sold for
Carrington is a very important Surrealist and Lot 15, "Nativity
(triptych)," is being sold by the Museum of Contemporary
Art in Chicago to benefit its collection fund. It is hard to imagine
what they could acquire that could be as superb as this Carrington
painting which is an egg tempera on masonite that measures 23
7/8 by 54 3/8 inches. Painted in 1989, it has a very conservative
estimate of $120,000 to $160,000. It sold for $130,700. The
work of Carrington, who lived for a while with Max Ernst, is mystical
and mysterious, reminiscent of Bosch but also full of charm and
intimacy and intrique.
excellent Carrington is Lot 87, "The Vet and the Bull,"
an oil on masonite that measures 16 1/8 by 36 inches. Executed
in 1951, it has an estimate of $100,000 to $120,000. It
A more famous
woman artist is Frida Kahlo (1907-1954). Lot 20 is a nice "View
of Central Park" that she made in November 1931. It was drawn
from her and Diego Rivera's hotel room at the Barbizon-Plaza hotel
on Central South. The watercolor and pencil on paper measures
10 ½ by 8 inches. The catalogue entry by Hayden Herrera
notes that "Skyscrapers, which impress most visitors to Manhattan,
seem to have left Kahlo cold. She does indicate apartment houses
on the upper East and West Sides, and a large building with two
arched windows must be her own idea of the Metropolitan Museum.
Her drawing has a relaxed touch and a delicate insouciant humor."
The lot has an estimate of $80,000 to $120,000. It sold for
year that Kahlo drew Lot 20, Alejandro Xul Solar (1887-1963) painted
Lot 23, an untitled gouache on paper that combines the geometries
of a Leger and the mirth of a Klee. A delightful work, it measures
11 by 8 ¾ inches and has a very conservative estimate of
$40,000 to $50,000. It sold for $47,800.
1931, Joaquin Torres-Garcia (1874-1949) painted Lot 24, simply
entitled "Composicion," a tempera on canvas that measures
20 1/8 by 16 inches. It has an estimate of $250,000 to $350,000.
It sold for $276,300.
Lam (1902-1982) is best known for his surrealistic abstractions
with very dynamic compositions, limited palettes and rather pointed
figures. Lot 27, however, is an untitled work that shows a more
colorful, indeed, conventional side of the artist. A gouache on
paper laid down on canvas, it measures 38 ½ by 28 ½
inches. Painted circa 1927, it has an estimate of $150,000 to
$200,000 and is a nice synthesis of Picasso and Matisse motifs.
It sold for $276,300.
Lot 65 is
an example of plumaria, or feather mosaics, which,
to Elena Isabel Estrada in the catalogue entry for this work,
were considered "the height of artistic and technical refinement
in pre-Hispanic applied arts." "These works," she
continued, "are the exceptional result of the fusion between
pre-Columbian and Spanish Evangelist artistic techniques. The
earliest examples date from 1520 to the masterpiece La Misa de
San Gregorio (1539) which was supervised directly by Fray Pedro
de Gante and was subsequently gifted to Pope Paul III. Plumaria
works quickly vanished with the introduction of European
and painting methods. Few of these works survive today. Similar
plumaria pieces are found in museums like the
in Florence and the Archaeology Museum in Madrid." Lot 60
is an untitled work of feathers, gold leaf and ink on vellum laid
down copper. It measures 10 ¼ by 8 ¼ inches and
was executed circa 1560. It has a modest estimate of $45,000 to
$55,000. It failed to sell.
Lot 32 is
a strong oil on canvas by Claudio Bravo (b. 1936) that is entitled
"Poteria de Marrakech." It measures 31 1/2 by 39 3/4
inches and was executed in 1995. It has an estimate of $200,000
to $250,000. It failed to sell and was passed at $160,000.