Art.Auctions logo

Latin American Art

Christie's

7PM, May 28, 2003

(Lots 1-58)

10AM, May 29, 2003

(Lots 60-166)

Sale 1237

"The Morphology of Desire" by Matta

Lot 28, "The Morphology of Desire," by Matta, oil on canvas, 28 by 36 1/8 inches, 1938

By Carter B. Horsley

This evening auction of Latin American Art at Christie's May 28, 2003 is highlighted by several very fine works paintings by Matta (1911-2002), the influential Surrealist, and a fine work by Leonora Carrington (b. 1917).

Lot 28, "The Morphology of Desire," shown above, is a particularly vibrant and powerful Matta. An oil on canvas, it measures 28 by 36 1/8 inches. Executed in 1938, it has an estimate of $700,000 to $900,000. It sold for $735,500 including the buyer's premium as do all results mentioned in this article.

The sale 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" by Matta

Lot 21, "Endless Nudes," by Matta, oil on canvas, 28 by 36 inches, 1941-2

Lot 21, "Endless Nudes," is an unusual Matta in that elements of the human body can be discerned. Consigned by The Seagram Collection, it was once in the collection of Philip Johnson and Associates. An oil on canvas, it measures 28 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 Hayden Herrera:

"In Endless Nudes the movement of paint, handled with 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 transparent 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 lures 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 implication 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" by Matta

Lot 38, "Composicion," by Matta, oil on canvas, 56 by 49 inches, 1948

Lot 38, "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 by 49 inches. Executed in 1948, it has a modest estimate of $100,000 to $150,000. It sold for $214,700.

Lot 113, "Sin titulo," by Matta, color crayon, pastel and watercolor on vellum paper, 19 by 26 inches, circa 1950

More typical 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 by 26 inches. The latter measures 19 by 28 inches. These are forceful, energetic and very dynamic works. Both works were withdrawn.

Lot 111 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 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 $26,290.

"Nativity (triptych)" by Leonora Carrington

Lot 15, "Nativity (triptych)," by Leonora Carrington, egg tempera on masonite, 23 7/8 by 54 3/8 inches, 1989

Leonora 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.

Another 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 failed to sell.

"View of Central Park" by Frida Kahlo

Lot 20, "View of Central Park," by Frida Kahlo, watercolor and pencil on paper, 10 by 8 inches, 1931

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 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 $83,650.

"Sin titulo" by Alejandro Xul Solar

Lot 23, "Sin titulo," by Alejandro Xul Solar, gouache on paper, 11 by 8 inches, 1931

The same 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 inches and has a very conservative estimate of $40,000 to $50,000. It sold for $47,800.

"Composicion" by Torres-Garcia

Lot 24, "Composicion," by Joaquin Torres-Garcia, tempera on canvas, 20 1/8 by 16 inches, 1931

Also in 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.

Wilfredo 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 by 28 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.

"Sin titulo (Via cruces)" by anonymous Mexican school

Lot 65, "Sin titulo (Via cruces)," by anonymous Mexican school, feathers, gold leaf and ink on vellum laid down on copper, circa 1560

Lot 65 is an example of plumaria, or feather mosaics, which, according 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 pigments and painting methods. Few of these works survive today. Similar plumaria pieces are found in museums like the Pitti Palace 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 by 8 inches and was executed circa 1560. It has a modest estimate of $45,000 to $55,000. It failed to sell.

"Poteria de Marrakech" by Claudio Bravo

Lot 32, "Poteria de Marrakech," by Claudio Bravo, oil on canvas, 31 1/2 by 39 3/4 inches, 1995

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.

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 2003 Latin American Art auction at Sotheby's

See The City Review article on the Fall 2002 Latin American Art auction at Sotheby's

See The City Review article on the Fall 2002 Latin American Art auction at Christie's

See The City Review article on the Spring 2002 Latin American Art auction at Sotheby's

See The City Review article on the Spring 2002 Latin American Art auction at Christie's

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

See The City Review article on the November 19, 2001 Latin American Art evening auction at Christie's

See The City Review article on the Latin American Art evening Auction at Sotheby's in the spring of 2001

See The City Review article on the Latin American Art evening auction at Christie's, May 30, 2001

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


Home Page of The City Review