Published: June 12, 2001
On the New York Scene:
NEW YORK CITY – The salesroom in Sotheby’s York Avenue headquarters erupted into applause numerous times on May 31 as collectors both in the room and on the phones competed for a range of works by Latin American artists, bringing the evening’s sale total to $7.2 million. The carefully edited sale included works by Latin American masters as well as offerings by contemporary artists who works rarely come to auction.
Speaking of the auction, which represented her debut as head of Sotheby’s Latin American art department, Kirsten Hammer said, “[This] auction shows a buoyant market for Latin American art. Not only did all of our major lots sell, but we also saw healthy competition among American, Latin American and European private collectors and dealers.
“The $1.65 million sale price achieved for the Frida Kalo which Sotheby’s had sold in 1988 for $198,000 shows how very far this market has come in the past ten years as a result of enhanced international competition,” Hammer continued.
A bidding battle ensued between two phone bidders over the highest selling lot for the evening, an early portrait by Frida Kahlo, “Portrait of Cristina, My Sister,” from 1928. The work finally sold for $1,655,750 to an anonymous bidder, well above its high estimate of $1.2 million.
Completed only two years after Kahlo began to paint following a near-fatal bus accident, the artist’s sister is portrayed with a bright palette as a well-dressed bourgeois. Although the painting is easily recognizable as the work of Kahlo, it is a very different image from the artist’s portraits that followed a year after the painting’s completion.
One of the most exciting moments of the evening came when a large-scale oil and collage on panel, “Prueba de Nuevo,” by the Argentinean artist Jorge de la Vega, was brought to the stage. The auctioneer opened with an order bid of $60,000 and another bidder bidding through a Sotheby’s representative on the phone immediately jumped the bid to $130,000. Four additional bidders competed, and the piece finally shattered the artist’s previous record at auction ($10,350) when it sold for $335,750 to a private collector from Argentina.
Hammer attributed the high price for the work to the fact the powerfully expressive canvas was a key example of the work of an artist who was not only a member of Nueva Figuración but also someone who tragically died young.
A magnificent work by Rufino Tamayo, “Serenata a la Luna (Serenade to the Moon)” from 1949, the period thought to be the pinnacle of the artist’s career, sold to a South American private collector for $599,750. The work is a prime example of Tamayo’s mature style, a synthesis of Mexican and pre-Columbian shapes and ideas with the fundamental Cubist elements he discovered during Pablo Picasso’s New York exhibition in 1940.
Fernando Botero’s charming “Florero” sparked spirited bidding and far surpassed its high estimate of $275,000 to sell for $473,250 to an anonymous bidder on the phone, while his monumental bronze sculpture “Female Torso,” from 1983, brought $418,250, selling to a European private collector.
“Morphology of Desire,” produced in 1938 by the internationally celebrated Chilean artist Matta, during a time when the artist was working in Corbusier’s studio in France, brought $582,850. Also by Matta, an untitled Surrealist crayon on paper image from 1938 fetched $258,750.
An additional artist’s record was set for a work on paper by Rufino Tamayo when a study for his famous watermelon images from the mural “Naturaleza Muerta,” painted in 1954 in Mexico City, sold for $87,000, surpassing the artist’s at-sale record of $77,000.
Manuel Cabré’s “Vista del Valle de Caracas desde el Calvario,” a landscape of Caracas in the 1920s, sold for $148,750, also breaking a record for that artist at auction.
At Christie’s offering of Latin American art on May 30, 70 lots totaled $4,251,525, with 67 percent of offerings sold by lot, 61 percent by dollar.
“In addition to exceptional prices achieved by Rufino Tamayo, Joaquin Torres-Garcia, David Alfaro Siquieros and other masters,” said Ana Sokoloff, head of the firm’s Latin American art department, “twelve auction records were set, including seven for contemporary artists who made their auction debuts.
“It was a lively sale,” she continued, “with bidding in the room and on the phones [from] Latin American, European and US collectors.”
Tamayo’s “Madre feliz,” 1949, was the top lot at $556,000, going to a private collector. In fact, all ten top lots were won by the private sector, including Torres-Garcia’s “Construccion,” 1944, which sold for $446,000; Siquieros’ “Proyecto para el mural sur de la Cd. Universitaria…,” which reached $270,000; and Fernando Botero’s “Familia,” which realized $160,000.
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