Art Market Watch
Is Fernando Botero the Latin American art market’s answer to Damien Hirst? Not really, though Sotheby’s New York did have a single-owner Botero sale during last week’s three-day set of Latin American art auctions held by Sotheby’s and its rival, Christie’s New York.
"Fernando Botero: A Celebration," which went off on the evening of May 25, 2011, featured 21 lots by the 79-year-old Colombian artist. The total was $7.5 million, with 16 lots selling, or 76 percent.
The Botero auction produced the week’s top lot, as his six-foot-square painting The Family (1972), whose fleshy seated dad and a standing wife subtly reverse classic gender roles, sold for $1,398,500, within its presale estimate. The buyer was listed as "Asian private," as were the buyers of the next two top lots. Is this a reflection of some kind of BRIC dynamic?
These included a bronze cast (one of two) of Botero’s iconic Man on a Horse (1992) -- displayed in Sotheby’s lobby prior to the sale -- which sold for $1,172,500, a new record for a Botero sculpture at auction.
The third highest lot, also bought by a private Asian bidder, was a 1983 painting of an exceptionally healthy -- should one say "Buddha-like"? -- seated nude, which brought $632,000. It had passed through the hands of master secondary-market dealer James Goodman Gallery, which as it happens has just sent out an email announcing “Fernando Botero at James Goodman Gallery.”
Though Hirst certainly succeeded with his two-day auction of his own works in 2008, single-artist sales remain a gamble. “It can be unfair to the artist,” said New York dealer Mary-Anne Martin, who was the original founder of Sotheby’s Latin American department. “Between the two houses there were 40 or more Boteros up at the same time, so how could you expect them all to sell?”
Sotheby’s shoe-horned two other separate Latin American sales into the evening, for a healthy total of 69 lots, of which 56 sold, or 81 percent, for just under $21.7 million. The house headlined the sum as the highest ever total for an evening of Latin American art at Sotheby’s. Kudos to Sotheby’s Latin American head Carmen Melián.
Sotheby’s other titled sale, “A Discerning Eye,” consisted of 14 lots from a private collection, unidentified by the house but thought to belong to Trudy and Paul Cejas, Miami collectors who are said to be selling their classic modernists to begin a contemporary collection. Ten of the 14 lots sold, or 71 percent, for a total of $5,423,751.
Top lots included Rufino Tamayo’s 1946 Woman Playing with Her Child ($1,370,500) and a 1913 Cubist-styled cityscape painted in Europe by Diego Rivera ($992,500). In the mixed-owner sale, Wilfredo Lam’s 1945 Les Oiseaux Voilés brought the high price, just over $1 million, and El Árbol de la Vida by Leonora Carrington -- who died that day -- sold for $578,500.
New auction records were set for 11 artists, including Cildo Meireles ($518,500), Dr. Atl ($326,500) and Carmen Herrera ($134,500). Including the May 26 day sale, the overall total for Latin American art at Sotheby’s was $26.8 million.
Christie’s Latin American sale was held in two sessions on May 26 and 27, 2011. It resulted in a slightly lower, but still upbeat total of $22.5 million, with 251 of the 335 lots sold, or 75 percent.
The top lot at Christie’s was Miguel Covarrubias’s 1932 painting of a group of tawny topless Balinese women, Offering of Fruits for the Temple, which sold for $1,022,500, more than triple the high estimate and a new auction record for the Mexican artist.
The buyer was listed as “Asian private,” prompting Mary-Anne Martin to surmise that the good result had something to do with the painting’s Balinese subject matter. Covarrubias’s Mexican subjects, she thought, probably “wouldn’t have gone that high and wouldn’t have gone to that part of the world.”
Works by the Chilean Surrealist Roberto Matta performed well at the auction, with his Regard du Germe (1956) selling for $710,500, well above its $400,000 high estimate. Other top lots were by the Brazilian modernist Emiliano di Cavalcanti ($782,500) and the popular contemporary Brazilian artist Adriana Varejão ($602,500) as well as Botero, Lam and Tamayo.
Perhaps the biggest disappointment of the auctions occurred at Sotheby’s, when the two-inch-tall, much-exhibited oval Autorretrato en Miniatura by Frida Kahlo, dedicated on the obverse to her lover, José Bartoli, failed to find a buyer at its $800,000-$1.2 million estimate.
Why didn’t it go? Simply put, “it was over-estimated,” Martin said.
Last year, Christie’s sold another small Kahlo painting, a 4 x 6 in. work, not a self-portrait, for $1.1 million, well above the presale estimate of $100,000-$150,000. “The result was that everyone got too excited, they all thought they had a chance.”
Someone did end up with the Sotheby’s miniature, though no doubt at a price somewhat below the unpublished reserve. Sotheby’s sold the work in a private sale the following day.
Prices given here include the auction-house buyer’s premium, which is 25 percent of the first $50,000, 20 percent of the amount between $50,000 and $1 million, and 12 percent on the rest.
For complete, illustrated results, see Artnet’s signature Fine Arts Auction Report.