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Art Market Watch
5/30/02


$6.8 MILLION AT SOTHEBY'S LATIN AMERICAN
Sotheby's New York held its Latin American art sale on May 29, 2002, and found buyers for 37 of 55 lots, or 67 percent, for a total of $6,577,703. The sale had some healthy prices -- all of the top ten lots went for over $250,000 -- as well as some soft spots -- at one point, six lots in a row were passed. "There was strong bidding from everywhere," said Sotheby's expert Kirsten Hammer. "The internationalization of the Latin American market is continuing."

The sale was seeded with more than average numbers of works by several of the field's most marketable (and available) artists, with seven lots by Rufino Tamayo, six by Fernando Botero and three by Matta.

Top lot was Tamayo's Fuego (1947), a 44 x 34 in. oil of two gesticulating nudes fleeing a burning building, which was exhibited at Pierre Matisse Gallery in New York in 1947 and in the traveling Tamayo retrospective of 1991-93. It sold to an anonymous American private buyer for $669,500, well under the presale estimate of $800,000-$1,000,000.

A second Tamayo, owned by the same unnamed "important Mexican collection," sold to a telephone bidder for $262,500, under the presale low estimate of $300,000. These two results suggest that the slow Latin American sale at Christie's the night before, May 28, had helped convince at least one consignor to lower what may have been over-ambitious reserves. Christie's sold 58 percent of 57 lots offered for a total of $4 million.

Lots at Sotheby's that sold for above their presale estimates included a large Claudio Bravo Still Life (1989), which went for $532,000 (est. $300,000-$350,000), and the dramatic Francisco Zuniga bronze of a sitting Zapotec woman, Juchitecta Sentada (1973, in an edition of six), which sold for $394,500 (est. $200,000-$250,000).

In the middle of the sale, auctioneer Augusto Uribe's headlong pace of passed lots suddenly dropped into low gear for a duel between two telephone bidders for Armando Morales' sexy Trois Nus et Voiture a Cheval (1985), which eventually sold for $306,500, well above the high presale estimate of $175,000.

The third highest price was brought by Botero's nine-foot-tall bronze Horse (1992), which sold for $504,500 (est. $400,000-$500,000), a new record for a sculpture by the artist. Artists' records were also set for the California-based Mexican artist Alfredo Ramos Martínez ($229,500) and the Mexican painter Antonio Ruiz, known as El Corcito ($262,500).

Among unsold works was the Surrealist polished bronze of a nude woman by María Martins, Eighth Veil (1948), which carried a presale estimate of $500,000-$700,000. The dramatic work, by Duchamp's onetime secret Brazilian lover, failed to sell despite its illustrious recent exhibition history -- the bronze was included in a 1998 survey of the artist's work at Andre Emmerich and in the Metropolitan Museum's recent "Surrealism: Desire Unbound."

For illustrations and complete auction info, see Artnet's unique Fine Art Auction Results.

CHRISTIE'S AMERICAN RESULTS -- FROM LAST MONTH
Usually, New York's two big auction houses, Sotheby's and Christie's, hold their major sales in tandem, sometimes joined by the upstart Phillips de Pury & Luxembourg. But when Sotheby's and Phillips held their American art sales last week [reported in "Art Market Watch," May 23, 2002], only then did your harried "Art Market Watch" realize that it had overlooked Christie's sale of such material a full month earlier, on Apr. 25, 2002. So for the record, here, a belated report:

Christie's New York sale of American art on Apr. 25, 2002, totaled $12.5 million, with buyers snapping up 36 of 61 lots offered, or a meager 59 percent. "The American paintings market is appropriately selective with the finest, fresh-to-market works selling consistently well," said Christie's expert Eric Widing, "and in some cases, spectacularly well."

Among the spectacles was Georgia O'Keeffe's Ram's Head, Blue Morning Glory (1938), an iconic Western image not publicly exhibited since 1939. It sold for $3,419,500, well above the presale high estimate of $1,200,000, to an anonymous buyer. A second O'Keeffe in the auction, the small pastel Pink Camellia, went below its $700,000-$1,000,000 estimate, selling for $559,500 to Adelson Galleries.

Auction records were set for William McGregor Paxton, whose moody, tonalist The Letter (1908) sold for $834,500 (est. $600,000-$800,000), Gaston Lachaise, whose bronze group The Peacocks (1922) sold for $449,500 (est. $150,000-$200,000) and Rocky Mountain painter Alfred Jacob Miller, whose small ca. 17 x 24 in. Sioux Camp sold for $394,500 (est. $300,000-$500,000).

$4 MILLION AT CHRISTIE'S LATIN AMERICAN
Christie's evening auction of Latin American art in New York on May 28, 2002, totaled just over $4 million (with premium), with only 33 of the 57 lots finding buyers, or 58 percent by lot. The relatively modest results for a relatively small sale are the first sign that economic malaise in general, and South American social turmoil in particular, may finally be touching the high-flying art market.

Still, the auction had its triumphs. Matta's existential The Ecclectrician (1945-46), a large oil showing a Surreal central figure in white presiding over a mechanical 3D universe, sold to an unnamed Mexican collector for $669,500, at the top of its $400,000-$600,000 presale estimate. The Mexican artist Rufino Tamayo's Dos Mujeres (1968), a gaudily colored painting done in oil and sand, was offered from the collection of the late Hollywood actor Anthony Quinn and went for $559,500 (est. $300,000-$400,000) to an unnamed European institution. And the Cuban Wifredo Lam's Dona Asseguda (1940) sold for $317,500, well above its presale high estimate of $200,000.

Auction records were set for three artists. Francisco Rodon's Ines en mis suenos (1996-2002), a large-scaled Pop-style portrait with the kind of bright colors that made the Puerto Rican artist's reputation in the 1960s, sold for $229,500 (est. $220,000-$260,000) to a Latin American collector.

The Brazilian modernist Alfredo Volpi's Fachada (ca. 1955), a folkish color construction in tempera, went for $47,800. And Maria Fernanda Cardoso's Woven Water (1994), a suspended structure made of starfish attached at their tips, sold for $22,705. Cardoso's previous auction record, $17,625, was set one year ago.

Other notable lots included a 1979 gouache on paper by Francisco Toledo, The Rabbit Exterminator, an exceptionally lively composition of a red hare running through a field of spider-web-like ringlets of color dotted with wasps and a fumigation gun. It sold after spirited bidding for $218,500, well over its presale high estimate of $100,000. Toledo is described in the catalogue as arguably Mexico's greatest living artist.

Fernando Botero's Caballo (1999), an attractively jade-colored 20-inch-tall bronze of a horse in an edition of six (a larger-than-life-sized version goes on the block at Sotheby's on May 29), sold for $229,500, just at its high estimate. "The Botero market is consistently good for sculpture," said Christie's Latin American expert Ana Sokoloff after the sale.

Jesus Rafael Soto's elegant Vibration I (1959), a proto-Op wood and metal construction measuring more than six feet wide, was purchased by New York dealer Roland Augustine for $71,700, above its presale high estimate of $60,000.

Among the passed items was a collection of personal effects belonging to Frida Kahlo -- two peasant blouses, a letter to Trotsky, some jewelry, an address book, a carved and painted skeleton -- that was estimated at $30,000-$40,000. The sale had no actual artworks by Kahlo (for a good report on "Kahlismo," see David D'Arcy on NPR).

Rufino Tamayo's La Tierra Prometida (1963), a 20-foot-long oil on paper on canvas mural representing contemporary Israel and originally commissioned for an ocean liner, estimated at $1,000,000-$1,500,000, failed to sell, (condition may have been a problem -- the work was at sea for over 20 years), as did the important Lam, La Sierra Maestra (est. $400,000-$600,000), a dramatic 10-foot-wide abstraction done in 1959, the year of Castro's inauguration, and celebrating the mountains in Western Cuba that was his revolutionary redoubt. "The size of the works presented a problem," suggested Sokoloff.

As usual, for illustrations and complete auction info, see Artnet's unique Fine Art Auction Results.



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