Latin American art



In 2009, Sotheby’s celebrated its 30th year of Latin American art sales. Its first sale of Latin American art took place in New York on 17 October 1979. Sotheby’s recent sales on 18 and 19 November 2009 generated a total of $13.8m for (with 68% of lots sold) vs. $7.,5m from its previous Latam sales on 27 and 28 May 2009. However, the figures are substantially below last year’s when Sotheby’s Latin American Art sales generated $22.9m on 29 and 30 May 2008 followed by $16.8m in November.

In fact the auction duopoly Sotheby’s and Christie’s has seen its combined revenue from Latin American art shrink, falling from $71.5m in 2008 to $42.68m in 2009.
2008 was – it should be said – a particularly good year. Neither Christie’s nor Sotheby’s had ever generated such good Latam results before 2008. Christie’s posted a historic record when Rufino TAMAYO’s painting Trovador fetched $6.4m on 28 May 2008 in New York, overtaking Frida KAHLO who had been at the top of the Latam auction tree since her Roots fetched $5m at Sotheby’s NY on 24 May 2006.

Nevertheless, after its November 2009 sale, Sotheby’s had a number of reasons to be satisfied: the revenue total was better than expected and several works fetched handsome sums, notably Endless Nudes by the surrealist painter Roberto MATTA which sold to a private American collector for $2.15m, the artist’s second best ever auction result. The same painting had fetched $650,000 less at Christie’s NY on 28 May 2003. Sergio DE CAMARGO and Cristobal ROJAS are also among the 10 records set at Sotheby’s in November. Sergio Camargo now has a 7-figure auction result to his name after his sculpture Relief fetched $1.35m vs. an estimate of $350,000 – $450,000. Cristobal Rojas made his first appearance at a New York auction with a work estimated at $300,000 – $400,000. There was general surprise when the hammer fell at $975,000. Two discrete bidders fought hard to acquire one of the rare paintings of this quality that has not yet been confined to a Venezuelan museum.

There were no 7-figure results at Christie’s on 17 November 2009 and its best hammer price on the night came from the usual stars of the market: Fernando BOTERO, the most expensive living Latin American artist, fetched $945,000 for a monumental bronze entitled Mujer fumando and $510,000 for a watercolour entitled Mother and Child. The other best results came from the Chilians Roberto Matta (Qui insuffle le printemps, $410,000 ) and Claudio BRAVO (White, Blue and Yellow Papers, $600,000), the Mexican Rufino TAMAYO (Mujeres, $580,000) and the Cuban Wifredo LAM (Untitled, $550,000).

While the $1,8m total from the Latin America sale at Phillips de Pury & Company on 3 October looks relatively small compared to the duopoly’s totals, the sale is worth mentioning for its density (248 lots) and its originality. For the first time, Phillips de Pury & Company organised a sale dedicated to Latin American “creators” in a broad sense, mixing artists, sculptors, photographers and designers. The best result on the day was $240,000 for Naturaleza Muerta (Autorretrato) by José Clemente OROZCO. However, the same work generated $70,000 more when it was sold at Sotheby’s NY on 24 May 2005. One of the best surprises at the sale was created by Adriana VAREJAO when her “Monocromo Branco #”/”#4” tripled its estimate with a hammer price of $90,000. In effect, this type of sale provides an excellent opportunity for collectors to acquire works by the new generation of Latin American artists at prices ranging from $500 to $100,000.