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Nov. 21, 2008 

If 60 percent is the new 80 percent, as one auction expert said the other day, then the Latin-American auction market remains strong. Christie’s two-day sales of Latin American art on Nov. 19-20, 2008, totaled $14.1 million (with premium), with 206 of 295 lots selling, or 70 percent. Virgilio Garza, Christie’s Latin-American art expert, noted active international bidding and the strength of the middle market across all categories.

The sale reflected weakness in the market at the top end, however, with only 50 percent sold by value. Among the unsold higher-priced lots were Joaquín Torres-García’s Tres figures (1946) (est. $2 million-$3 million), Roberto Matta’s Stop the Age of Hemmohrr (1947-48) (est. $1 million-$1.5 million) and Fernando Botero’s bronze statue from 1996, The Rape of Europa (est. $250,000-$350,000).   

Another Botero lot, Reclining Venus (1989), however, did sell for $962,500, within the presale estimate. The top lot was another bronze, Francisco Zúñiga’s Grupo frente al mar (1984), a cast of the artist’s prize-winning sculpture of three figures emerging from the sea, which bought by a U.S. private collector for $1,202,500, close to the presale low estimate.

The sales set new auction records for 11 artists: Emilio Pettoruti ($782,500), Adriana Varejão ($302,500), Roberto Aizenberg ($134,000), Manuel Rodríguez Lozano ($92,500), Manuel Pailós ($86,500), Julio Galán ($80,500), César Paternosto ($74,500), José Maria Mijares ($43,750), Juan Manuel Hernández ($27,500), Jorge Camacho ($23,750) and Arturo Montoto ($11,875).    

Sotheby’s two-day sale of Latin-American art in New York, Nov. 18-19, 2008, totaled $20.3 million, with 50 of 274 lots finding buyers, or almost 55 percent.

The top lot was Rufino Tamayo’s America (1955), a mural originally commissioned for a Houston bank, which sold to a telephone bidder for $6,802,500. The price is below the $7 million presale low estimate but a new high for a Latin-American work of art sold at Sotheby’s, according to the Carmen Melián, the firm’s specialist in the field.

Other top lots included Remedios Varo’s egg-shaped oil Planta Insumisa (1961), a depiction of a wild-haired botanist at her workbench, which sold for $1,426,500, a new record for the artist at auction, and Joaquín Torres-García’s tempera-on-canvas pictogram, Constructif avec rythme dentele (1931), which sold for $842,500.

The sale set new auction records for 13 artists in all, including Dr. Atl (Gerardo Murillo) ($314,500), Carlos Cruz-Diez ($54,500), Thomas Jacques Somerscales ($254,500), Ricardo Martínez ($92,500), Cildo Meireles ($194,5000), Eduardo Kingman ($104,500), Fernando de Szyszlo ($80,500), Carlos Luna ($40,625) and José Antonio Hernández-Díez ($28,125).

For its fall sale of prints and editions on Sunday, Nov. 23, 2008, Phillips de Pury & Co. has published a catalogue that itself contains four original prints by artists, a promotional strategy that some will remember was used by Jean Lipman when she published Art in America magazine back in the 1960s.

The unsigned prints in the Phillips de Pury catalogue, all offset lithographs on Mohawk Beckett paper in editions of 7,100 (with 100 artist’s proofs), are by Hilary Harkness, James Hyde, William Pope.L and Kay Rosen. The catalogue sells for $60. The project is the brainchild of Philips de Pury print specialists Kelly Troester and Cary Leibowitz.

As for the sale itself, it presents 327 lots, ranging from Jean Dubuffet’s Personnage au costume rouge (est. $40,000-$60,000) and Jean-Michel Basquiat’s Back of the Neck (1983) (est. $180,000-$250,000) to Thomas Struth’s 2004 suite of six ink-jet prints, Paradise (est. $2,500-$3,500) and Mark Bradford’s untitled monoprint from the same year (est. $1,200-$1,800).

For complete, illustrated results, see Artnet’s signature Fine Art Auctions Report.

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