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Art Market Watch
May 26, 2006 

Frida Kahlo
's evocative Roots (1943), an oil-on-metal self-portrait with the artist's reclining body sending out leafy green branches as well as roots reaching into a barren earth, sold for $5,616,000 at Sotheby's New York auction of Latin American art on May 24, 2006, a result that was at the bottom end of the $5 million-$7 million presale estimate but nevertheless a new auction record for the artist. The small (12 x ca. 20 in.) picture was once owned by Dolores Olmedo, a lover of Diego Rivera and a trustee of both Kahlo's and Rivera's estates, and was featured in the 2005 Kahlo retrospective at Tate Modern in London. It was sold this time around by Houston collector Marilyn Oshman, a former Houston CAM trustee whose family founded Oshman's Sporting Goods. The buyer was an anonymous telephone bidder.

Overall, Sotheby's two-day Latin American sale totaled $23,001,200 (including premium), with 138 of 176 lots finding buyers, or over 78 percent. The total is the highest ever for a sale of Latin American art, according to Sotheby's expert Carmen Melián.

Auction records were set for Francisco Zúñiga, whose bronze sculpture of four women and a child, Grupo de cuatro mujeres de pie (1974), sold for $3,712,000 (est. $700,000-$900,000), and tied for Fernando Botero, when his Four Musicians sold for $2,032,000 (est. $1.5 million-$2 million). A new auction record was set for a Botero sculpture when his Bird sold for $1,052,000 (est. $500,000-$600,000). New auction records were also set for forest-glade-painter Tomás Sánchez ($363,200), turn-of-the-century fantasist Julio Ruelas ($363,200), 19th-century landscapist Edmund Darch Lewis ($60,000) and kinetic artist Luis Tomasello ($31,200).

Top prices for women artists included the $553,600 paid for Leonora Carrington's storybook painting of witches and other mysterious figures in a woods, Un Sueño en el Bosque (the 19th Hole) (ca. 1958), and the $352,000 paid by a Latin American private collector for Remedios Varo's frottage-influenced painting in resin on board of a cloaked female traveler, El Camino Arido (1962).

The smaller sale of Latin American art at Christie's New York on May 23-24, 2006, which actually preceded Sotheby's sales, totaled $16,327,520, with 185 of 265 lots finding buyers, or 70 percent. According to Christie's expert Virgilio Garza, 40 percent of the buyers in the evening auction (which featured the first 67 lots) were U.S. and 26 were from Latin America.

Top lot at Christie's was Fernando Botero's The Musicians (1979), which sold for $2,032,000, setting the new record for Botero that the Sotheby's auction would tie the following day. As it happens, the price is also a record for a living Latin American artist. The sale's cover lot, an untitled gouache from 1944 by Wifredo Lam, went for $1,304,000, a record for a work on paper by the artist.  New world auction records were also set for Rodolfo Morales ($216,000) and Mathias Goeritz (1915-1990), whose abstract mural from 1970, an expanse of weathered gold paint on stainless steel laid on wood, sold for $340,800 (est. $200,000-$250,000).


The sale of American paintings at Sotheby's New York on May 24, 2006, totaled $60,029,500, close to the presale high estimate of $62.3 million, with 186 of 231 lots selling, or more than 80 percent. Top lot was Norman Rockwell's Homecoming Marine (1945), a sober scene of a soldier surrounded by his co-workers in a garage after World War II (the young man fingers a Japanese flag) that was originally made as a cover illustration for the Saturday Evening Post, which sold for $9.2 million, well above the presale estimate of $3 million-$5 million and a new record for the artist at auction. The buyer was an anonymous U.S. private collector.

The number two lot was Andrew Wyeth's South Cushing (1955), a ca. 28 x 37 in. tempera on panel of a draft horse in a field, which sold for $4,384,000, well above the presale high estimate of $3 million. The price is a new auction record for Wyeth.

The number three lot was Childe Hassam's A Paris Nocture (1889), which went for $3,152,000, at the edge of its $3 million presale low estimate. The anonymous buyer for the Hassam, as for the Wyeth and most of the top ten lots, is listed as "American private" by the auction house, suggesting that art collecting is becoming an increasing pastime among super-high-paid U.S. business executives.

The sale also set new auction records for Maria Oakey Dewing ($2,032,000), Thomas Hart Benton ($1,808,000) and Francis A. Silva ($1,472,000).  

The booming global art market has expanded into the Arab world with a vengeance with Christie's Dubai's first international modern and contemporary art auction in the Middle East at the Jumeirah Emirates Towers in Dubai on May 24, 2006. The sale totaled $8,489,400, with 111 of 127 lots finding buyers, or 87 percent.

"Tonight the Middle Eastern artists achieved international credibility while the Indian contemporary market consolidated its position as the most vibrant of them all," said Jussi Pylkkänen, president of Christie's Europe and Middle East and the auctioneer for the sale. The auction "showcased a wealth of new talent," and set an incredible 53 new artist records. Buyers hailed from more than 17 countries, according to Christie's, and many bidders were new to the auction process.

Most of the top lots were by Indian artists, including Rameshwar Broota (b. 1941), whose oil-on-canvas Numbers (1979) -- a Middle Eastern version of "the organizational man"? -- sold for $912,000 (est. $80,000-$120,000), the highest price of the sale and a new auction record for the artist.

A recent calligraphic abstraction by the Egyptian artist Ahmed Moustafa (b. 1943), Where the Two Oceans Meet (Variant No. 3) (2003), sold for $284,800, more than double the presale high estimate of $120,000 and a new auction record for the artist. Another Egyptian artist to watch is Chant Avedissian (b. 1951), whose Icons of the Nile 1 (1992-93), a Hollywood-on-the-Nile stencil painting combining celebrity-type images with decorative Arabic motifs, sold for a record $48,000 (est. $22,000-$30,000).

Other artists whose work is now in play on the international auction market include Paul Guiragossian, Chafic Abboud and Hussein Madi, who hail from Lebanon; the Iraq artists Dia Al-Azzawi, Shakir Hassan Al-Said and Suad Al-Attar; the Syrian artist Fateh Moudarres; and a host of artists from Iran, including Mohsen Vasiri, Massoud Arabshahi, Farhad Moshiri, Sadegh Tabrizi, Fatemeh Emdadian, Nasser Ovissi, Hossein Zenderoudi, Mohammad Ehsai, Faramarz Pilaram, Fereydoun Ave, Khosrow Hassanzadeh and Shadi Ghardirian.

Last but not least was a guy named Andy Warhol, whose Double Mona Lisa from 1978 sold for $192,000, above its high presale estimate of $160,000.

Phillips, de Pury & Co. has split its forthcoming design sale into two separate categories -- design and design art, both scheduled for June 7, 2006. The design sale kicks off in the morning at 10 am, featuring lots by designers such as Charles and Ray Eames, Isamu Noguchi, Charlotte Perriand, Gio Ponti, Jean Prouvé and Line Vautrin, as well as a geometric rug by Sonia Delaunay that is estimated to sell for $50,000-$70,000. 

The design art sale is scheduled for that evening at 7 pm, and features signature pieces that are "conceptual" and "aggressively lean toward form and vocalize the boundaries within their respective movements," according to Phillips design expert Alexander Payne. Among the lots in the design art sale are Marc Newson's 1993 Orgone Stretch Lounge (est. $300,000-$400,000), Ron Arad's Unique Tinker Chair from 1988 (est. $60,000-$80,000) and works by Harry Bertoia, Scott Burton, Frank Gehry, Shiro Kuramata, Verner Panton, Paolo Soleri and Ettore Sottsass.

Israeli shipping magnate Sammy Ofer was the buyer of Vincent van Gogh's L'Arlesienne, Madame Ginoux (1890), which sold for $40,336,000 (with premium) at Christie's New York on May 2, 2006, according to a report by Colin Gleadell in the Telegraph. As it happens, auction-room observers noted the bespectacled Ofer at the Sotheby's sale the next day, perched in a skybooth with SoHo dealer Jeffrey Deitch. The buyer of Pablo Picasso's $95.2 million Dora Maar au chat (1941) at Sotheby's remains unreported.

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

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