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May 29, 2009 

To no one’s surprise, the spring Latin American sales at Sotheby’s New York (totaling $9.4 million) and Christie’s New York ($13.8 million) were a bit lackluster, and came in below the low end of their presale estimates. The totals were down dramatically from last year -- about one-third the sums garnered at the same sales in May 2008.

Still, as usual, the auctions did boast a little bit of action at the top end, setting several new auction records for artists of note.

Sotheby’s kicked things off on May 27, 2009, with an evening sale of Latin American art that totaled $6,740,000, below the presale low estimate of $7.5 million, with 42 of 56 lots finding buyers, or 75 percent. The top lot was Diego Rivera’s tempera on linen, Niña con rebozo (1935) -- illustrated in Bertram Wolfe’s Portrait of Mexico, New York of 1937 -- which soared past its presale high estimate of $450,000 to sell for $794,500.

The top ten also included the 19th-century Procesión de la Virgen by Édouard-Henri-Théophile Pingret, a Mexican genre work of considerable historical resonance -- indeed, it was not allowed out of the country for the sale -- which sold to a Mexican collector for $278,500, a new auction record for the artist. Records were also established for Andreas López, whose 1803 Madonna sold for $50,000, and for two artists of the Kinetic Art movement, Mercedes Pardo ($53,125) and Enio Iommi ($43.750).

More auction records were set during the day sale, including for contemporary works by Oswaldo Vigas ($56,250), Irene Sierra Carreño ($53,125) and Jose Antonio Davila ($25,000). Sotheby’s two-day total, $9,422,625, was below the presale low estimate of $10.6 million; 137 of 213 lots sold, or just over 64 percent.

Christie’s evening sale of Latin American art on May 28, 2009, totaled $11,004,350, with 43 of 63 lots finding buyers, or 68 percent. With its May 29 day sale added in, the grand total was $13,826,788, with 189 of 275 lots selling, or 68 percent.

The top lot was Mario Carreño’s Fuego en el batey (Fire on the Farm) (1943), which sold for $2,188,100, just at the presale high estimate. An almost Futuristic depiction of a Mexican “Holy Family” escaping a farmhouse in flames, the painting was widely regarded as a lost masterpiece of Cuban modernism until it was recently rediscovered in the collection of the late Milton and Nona Ward of New York, where it had been for over 50 years.

Christie’s also boasted a new record for Leonora Carrington, whose The Giantess (also known as The Guardian of the Egg), a tempera on wood panel painted ca. 1947, sold for $1,482,500 (est. $800,000-$1,200,000) to a private Mexican buyer. The work had been exhibited at Pierre Matisse Gallery in New York in 1948 and widely reproduced since then.

“We are particularly excited about the long overdue recognition and important world auction record for Leonora Carrington, whose work surpassed the $1 million dollar mark,” said Christie’s Latin American specialist Virgilio Garza. The new price doubles Carrington’s existing record, which was only set a year ago.

Other high prices were brought by Diego Rivera’s much-exhibited Autorretrato (1941), originally commissioned by Rochester engineer Sigmund Firestone, which sold for $1,022,500, and for works by Matta ($494,500), Joaquín Torres-García ($422,500), Wifreo Lam ($386,500), Rufino Tamayo ($386,500) and Fernando Botero ($362,500).

New auction records were set for René Portocarrero ($52,500), Helio Oiticica ($182,500), Roberto Aizenberg ($146,500) and Lygia Pape ($86,500).

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

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