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Latin American Art


7 PM, November 18, 2008 (Lots 1-78)

10 AM, November 19, 2008 (Lots 80-276)

Sale 8493

"America" by Tamayo

Lot 12, "America," by Rufino Tamayo, vinylite and sand on canvas, 13 feet 2 inches by 45 feet 10 3/8 inches, 1955

By Carter B. Horsley

A major masterpiece by Rufino Tamayo (1899-1991) is the highlight of the evening auction of Latin American Art at Sotheby's November 18, 2008.

Entitled "America," it is a vinylite and sand on canvas mural that measures 13 feet 2 inches by 45 feet 10 3/8 inches and was created in 1955 for the Bank of the Southwest in Houston. The very impressive work has been widely published and has an estimate of $7,000,000 to $9,000,000. It sold for $6,802,500 including the buyer's premium as do all results mentioned in this article and it set a new Sotheby's record for any work of Latin American art at auction. Artist's records were also set for Remedios Varos, Carlos Cruz-Diez, Thomas Jacques Somerscales and Dr. Atl. The pre-sale estimate for the 78 lots in the evening sale was $21,770,000 to $29,235,000. The evening sale total was $16,797,875, indicating that the auction seemed to follow the pattern set by the earlier auctions this season of significantly reduced sales and sales prices but still indicated that there were significant buyers for some premium works.

Carmen Melián, head of Sotheby's Latin American department, said after the evening sale, that she was "delighted with the results...particularly in light of the economic climate," adding that "the sale total was comparable to our evening sale in the spring of 2007." "We saw strong interest for a wonderful section of abstract works from the 1960s and for 19th century landscapes.

The two-day total was $20,263,126. During the day session, records were set for 10 other artists.

Lot 12, "America," by Tamayo was included in the May 17, 1993 Latin American Art auction at Christie's in New York and was on loan to the Dallas Museum of Art from 1995 to 2008 and has been widely published.

The Bank of the Southwest in Houston announced in 1954 that its new building would have a monumental 6,200-square-meter lobby and the building's architect, Kenneth Franzheim, thought the space should have a mural by Dean Cornwell, a New York artist.

The catalogue entry by Juan Carlos Pereda for this lot provides the following commentary:

"When this decision was shared with interior designer Hans Knoll, who had been commissioned to decorate the interior of the building, he thought that Cornwell's painting was too conservative for a building that was so modern in every detail. Knoll, along with the bank's director Randolph Bryan, decided to hire Rufino Tamayo to create an imposing mural to decorate the most important space in the building.

America was executed without the help of assistants in five months of constant and disciplined work. Tamayo worked shifts of more than eight-hour days, seven days a week. Many of the technical aspects of this work, such as the linen canvas woven into one piece, and the identification of an adequate paint medium for the format, had already been resolved. A few years earlier, Tamayo had completed the murals - Mexico Today and Birth of our Nationality, which he painted for the vestibule of the Palacio de Bellas Artes, the emblematic building of the arts of Mexico. Given the monumental dimensions of the mural, Tamayo had to look for an appropriate place to set up an improvised workshop for the creation of the colossal painting. He relied on Nabor Carrillo, then President of the Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México, to lend him the institution's enclosed court. Once finished, America was exhibited in the vestibule of the Palacio de Bellas Artes in Mexico City, from December 1-15, 1955. After the painting was shown to the Mexican public, the mural was carefully rolled up and shipped to its destination in the city of Houston. It wasn't until April of 1956 that the public was able to appreciate the painting in all its splendor as the focal point of the Bank of the Southwest. The North American public's reaction toward the painting was one of wholehearted and enthusiastic acceptance.

"In spite of taking a narrative risk in the usual format for public art, Tamayo wanted to prove that large-format painting isn't rhetorical by nature, and that it isn't condemned to be a political medium but can be a poetic manifesto. This is how Tamayo himself described the symbolic meaning of the monumental canvas that represents America, the mural with which he ratified his permanently divergent position toward modern Mexican muralism:

"The figure in the lower half of the composition represents America. She's surrounded by water to emphasize her geographical situation. Because of her large proportions, this figure communicates the idea of abundance, our continent's main trait, which is also represented by the fish, a symbol of abundance in the sea, by a plant, symbol of the wealth of the land, by an oil geyser and a water fountain, symbols of subterranean resources. In the upper half of the mural, there are two figures embracing that symbolize the melting pot of the two main races in America, whose cultural contributions spiritually enrich them. The white figure on the left is the white race, and next to it is the cross, a symbol of the Western culture. The dark-skinned figure on the right is the indigenous race, whose contribution is represented by the plumed serpent, Quetzalcoatl, a symbol of pre-Colombian culture. I painted the great figure of America white and brown to indicate that within her the two races and cultures intermixed to create her greatness. The movement of these figures, and their expression of joy, signify activity and at the same time happiness for all the material and spiritual wealth.

"Thus, without resorting to political proclamations or arguments, he achieved with America one of the strongest, life-affirming and poetic paintings in the history of Mexican muralism. The iconography of this magnificent painting has its origins in various sources consulted by the painter in order to achieve powerful personifications of concepts like continent, race and abundance. One must consider that Tamayo could have taken into account the European engravings of the eighteenth and nineteenth century, in which America is depicted as a woman, often wearing an imperial crown and an abundant head of hair, as in fact occurs in the mural of America. Tamayo depicted the conquest of the natives of America as integration and not as a dramatic conquest. At the same time, he visually conceptualized America as a live and telluric land, 'red' as Antonin Artaud had described it when he visited Mexico and discovered the work of María Izquierdo, and as he had also discussed with André Breton. It's interesting to note that Tamayo refers to the entirety of the American continent, and not just the territory of the United States, thus alluding to the hemisphere's territory, but more concretely to the vast extensions of land and the abundance of natural resources in Mexico, Central and South America, although paradoxically destined to decorate one of North America's most emblematic locations—a bank, symbol of the financial culture of the United States.

"The vibrant and contrasting colors of America are a worthy expression of one of the best stages of Tamayo's mature style, in full command of his faculties as an outstanding colorist. Here Tamayo's use of color is expressed with his biggest virtues: a powerful contrast between colors; the exploration of delicate ranges and opulent tonalities, and a fully harmonious relation between color and form to achieve a composition that brings about a true masterpiece.

"Tamayo's idealization of America turned out to be optimistic and utopian, as somewhat logically accords an artist who experienced first-hand the horrors of World War II. His reflection on the continent that had supplied nations in conflict with food and fuel still remained an 'open barn' in the post-War era, but now at the service of the progress of nations. This painting can be considered one of the most significant works, not only of Tamayo's muralistic production but also of all painters that worked within that aesthetic discipline."

Another catalogue essay on the mural by Mary K. Coffey, Assistant Professor of the Modern Art of the Americas, Department of Art History, Dartmouth College, notes that "In a 1953 interview with the art critic Bambi, Rufino Tamayo famously exclaimed: 'I'm not the Fourth Great One.' Responding to attempts by the Mexican state's cultural apparatus to position him within the pantheon of Mexican Greats - los tres grandes, Diego Rivera, José Clemente Orozco, and David Alfaro Siqueiros - Rufino Tamayo insisted: 'I'm neither the fourth, nor am I great. . . . I am the first in a new modality of Mexican painting that attempts a universal voice, instead of limiting itself to that chauvinistic painting that we could well call 'the School of Huipanguillo.' 1 This claim, often reiterated throughout his career, typifies Tamayo's rye sense of humor, as well as his struggle to distinguish his mural practice from the folkloric Social Realism of the 'Mexican School of Painting.' Tamayo's 'new modality' involved the promotion of 'pure painting' or a poetic approach to realism over and against the political figuration of his peers. América (1955) embodies Tamayo's 'new modality' and reveals his allegiance to the pure plastic values of vanguard formal experimentation along with his unwavering commitment to abstract figuration. The 1953 interview was occasioned by Tamayo's completion of two permanent murals (The Birth of Nationality [1952] and Mexico Today [1953]) at the Palace of Fine Arts, the most important venue for showcasing Mexican art and the location of important earlier commissions by Rivera (Man at the Crossroads [1934]), Orozco (Catharsis [1934]), and Siqueiros (New Democracy [1944-5]). Tamayo's inclusion within the Palace represented his official embrace by a government that had denied him public commissions since 1933. It also corresponded with his triumphant homecoming as an internationally acclaimed artist after a decade of self-imposed exile. Like Rivera, Orozco, and Siqueiros before him, Tamayo sought recognition and work in the U.S. when state patronage dried up. However, unlike los tres grandes, Tamayo garnered acclaim within the transatlantic art world because his work represented an alternative to what was deemed the provincialism and political dogmatism of art of the left. While best known for his easel painting, Tamayo executed numerous murals throughout his career. His earliest frescos reveal an artist struggling to reconcile his aesthetic convictions with the demands of public art. By 1950, however, his murals represent a confident intervention into the discourses of cultural nationalism. In particular, he offered an alternative perspective on mestizaje, the legacy of the Conquest for modern Mexico, and aesthetic Indigenismo, or what Tamayo disparagingly referred to as 'skin deep Mexicanism.' Marking the emergence of his mature style, his murals of the 1950s abandon the fresco medium in favor of Vinylite, a synthetic paint, on canvas. This change in materials freed his conceptual programs from an engagement with their architectural support (a hallmark of Mexican Muralism), thus reclaiming easel painting for public art after its denunciation in the radical fervor of the post-Revolutionary period. Tamayo's mature murals should be viewed, therefore, as part of the heroic painting influenced by Picasso's Guernica (1937) and heralded in the 'triumph' of the New York School after World War II. However, unlike the Abstract Expressionists, Tamayo rejected total abstraction and allied himself with the aesthetic legacy of the School of Paris while remaining engaged thematically, but not exclusively so, with Mexican culture and history. América derives from the period between 1955 and 1971 when Tamayo's mural career took off with high-profile commissions at home and abroad for corporate, federal, and international agencies. One of five murals Tamayo painted within the U.S. and its territories (Nature and the Artist: The work of Art and the Observer [1943], Hillyer Art Library, Smith College; Man [1953], Dallas Museum of Fine Arts; Prometheus [1957], University of Puerto Rico; and Brotherhood [1968], United Nations, New York), América is the largest (thirteen by forty-five feet), and the only work to address a Mexican theme. The work reveals Tamayo's mastery as a colorist, as well as his life-long dialog with Picasso's formal experiments. This is particularly evident in his cubo-surrealist analysis of the figure and rendering of space, as well as in his incorporation of sand into the surface of the work. Recalling Picasso's use of sand and collage, Tamayo's technique partakes of the avant-garde desire to eschew illusionism by emphasizing the materiality of painting, while also nodding toward mural art's origins in fresco, a medium formed of the fusion of sand-based masonry and ground pigment....Given its location in Houston, a "gateway" between Mexico and the United States, Tamayo took the opportunity to present a hemispheric vision of the Americas rooted in the Conquest and subsequent fusion of Occidental and Indian culture. A nude 'America' reclines amid a rubble-strewn landscape anchored on the left by the Spanish cross and on the right by Quetzalcoatl, the feathered serpent of Pre-Columbian cosmology and a bringer of enlightenment. 'America' stretches in a gesture of happy repose; fish swim and corn thrives under the glow of a tropical sun. 'America's' white and sienna body forms a fertile soil that gives rise to a Grecian female figure and a dark-skinned male warrior, thus reflecting the dual racial and cultural heritage of the Americas. Unlike his earlier mural cycle in Mexico's Palace of Fine Arts, where he characterized the Conquest as a brutal imposition of a phallic Occidental culture upon a feminized indigenous world, Tamayo reverses these codes in America. Here, he presents Western culture as a passive white woman, perhaps a reference to antique statuary, and the Christian cross lies flat, as though leveled by the warrior. Quetzalcoatl surges forward echoing the punching fist of his dark-skinned human counterpart. Both recall the violent torque of Tamayo's figures in canvases like Cosmic Terror (1954) or The Tormented Man (1949). However, rather than spiraling within a vortex of existential terror, the figures in América threaten to burst into the viewer's space. The feathered serpent's fanged jaws open in a scream like one of Tamayo's howling dogs from the early 1940s, insinuating a note of atavism within an otherwise optimistic take on America's violent origins. Tamayo's subtle reversal of the gendered hierarchy and power dynamics implicit in his earlier murals signals a shift from the phantasmal to the ferocious in his portrayal of Pre-Columbian culture and its modern legacy. Like Siqueiros's fetishization of the militant Cuauhtémoc during this period, Tamayo too seems to have become fascinated with the raw strength of the ancient Aztecs. In this respect, his murals from the 1950s and 60s participate in an official valorization of the splendors of México-Tenochtitlán as the historical precedent for the contemporary nation-state. The Mexican government institutionalized this ideology in 1964 when it inaugurated the new National Anthropology Museum in Chapultepec Park. Tamayo executed a massive mural commemorating the epic battle between Quetzalcoatl and Tezcatlipoca for the lobby of this building (Duality [1964]), thereby securing his reputation as Mexico's most important public artist. Tamayo's success at this time was no coincidence, for he was both a skilled painter and an excellent self-promoter. He positioned himself as the lone warrior for non-polemical art, and as such he was perfectly situated within the complex cultural and political negotiations between Europe, the U.S., and Mexico during the Cold War. Throughout this period, intellectuals and cultural technocrats in Mexico had to negotiate the Manichean standoff between the Soviet Union and the United States along with an international cultural order that equated realism with oppression and abstraction with freedom. They did so by seeking to depoliticize the realism that characterized Mexican modernism and arguing for an alternative kunstwollen (will to form) that was rooted in a distinct but no less spectacular antiquity than the European vanguards. This reconstruction of Mexicanidad invoked a racialized spirit of resistance to Imperialism, whether Soviet Socialism or the hegemonic claims of the U.S. within the hemisphere. Tamayo, who claimed to be a 'full blooded' Zapotec Indian, became the emblem of Mexico's alternative modernity. Critics in the United States - such as Clement Greenberg or the artist Barnett Newman - had been praising Tamayo's painting since the 1940s. Distinguishing him from the - professional patriots' of the Mexican School, they saw affinities between the 'basic terror [and] brutality of life' expressed in his art and the concerns of the nascent New York School. Likewise, he appealed to the French, struggling to maintain a foothold within an art world increasingly centered in the Americas. For them, Tamayo opposed the Stalinism of his peers, and his allegiance to the School of Paris made him more attractive than the Abstract Expressionists. And for the Mexicans, he represented a viable alternative to the stigmatic socialism so closely associated with national culture at a time when the government sought to present a more cosmopolitan face. América, much like Orozco's Epic of American Civilization (1932-34) at Dartmouth College, signals an important turning point in the artist's career. Working at the peak of his powers as a painter and interpreter of Mexico for the world, Tamayo executed a work that properly understood should be considered alongside Jackson Pollock's Autumn Rhythm (1950) or Barnett Newman's Vir Heroicus Sublimus (1950-51). As an alternative but equally historically significant attempt to limn a 'universal' art from American sources without falling into the traps of nationalism or the parochial concerns of contemporary politics, Tamayo's mural reveals the rich diversity of the human tradition in post-war art, along with Mexico's substantial contributions to that tradition."

"Re-encuentro" by Tamayo

Lot 60, "Re-encuentro," by Rufino Tamayo, oil and sand on canvas, 37 1/2 by 51 inches, 1982

Lot 60 is a good oil and sand on canvas painting by Tamayo entitled "Re-encuentro." It was executed in 1982 and has been consigned by the Los Angeles County Museum of Art to benefit acquisitions of Latin American Art. It has an estimate of $300,000 to $400,000. It sold for $362,500.

"Constructif avec Rythme Dentelé" by Torres-Garcia

Lot 21,"Constructif avec Rythme Dentelé, by Joaquin Torres-Garcia, tempera on canvas, 34 by 21 5/8 inches, 1931

Lot 21 is a good tempera on canvas by Joaquin Torres-Garcia (1874-1949) that is entitled "Constructif avec Rythme Dentelé." It measures 34 by 21 5/8 inches and was painted in 1931. It has a somewhat ambitious estimate of $800,000 to $1,200,000. It sold for $842,500. The painting was offered at Sotheby's in New York November 6, 1980 and then at Christie's in New York November 20, 2002, when it sold for $361,500, considerably above its high pre-sale estimate of $250,000.

The catalogue entry for this lot provides the following commentary:

"Joaquín Torres-García's artistic career spanned much of the first half of the twentieth century and developed across continents from Europe to North and South America, and intersected with such leading modern artists as Stuart Davis, Joan Miró, Piet Mondrian, David Alfaro Siquieros, Joseph Stella and Max Weber. While living in Paris from 1926-32, he became a major protagonist in the development of early European vanguard movements, most notably as co-founder of the Cercle et Carré, a loose association of artists who included such luminaries as Jean Arp, Fernand Léger, Wassily Kandinsky, Kurt Schwitters, George Vantongerloo, and Mondrian, and whose members subscribed to a range of views about geometric abstraction. In 1934, he returned to his homeland of Montevideo and through his unique art, teachings and writings centered on the notion of "Constructive Universalism" - a new language based on a shared tradition of abstraction rooted in Western and non-Western principles - became a lightning rod for introducing modern art practices to artists in the Southern Cone region and beyond.

"Executed in 1931 during what was arguably Torres-García's most fertile and active period, Constructif avec rythme dentelé is a classic work from Torres-García's Parisian years. And, while he began exploring abstraction and other vanguard practices prior to his arrival in Paris in 1926, it was most certainly his immersion into that cultural and intellectual milieu that marked his definitive embrace of modernism and the crystallization of his mature style. Coming into contact with the two dominant groups of the time - the surrealists and the adherents of abstraction - Torres-García absorbed aspects of both but ultimately felt a greater kinship to the former. He was particularly drawn to the ideas of the creators of Neo-Plasticism - Theo Van Doesburg and Piet Mondrian - both of whom he met in the late 1920s and whose rigorous geometry and use of pure colors coupled with mystical spiritualism and a utopian vision would resonate well with his beliefs about the intersection of art and life....

"But, ultimately Neo-Plasticism proved to be too constraining and overly rational for Torres-García and while he would adhere to its fundamental principles, he would soon look elsewhere for the missing ingredient that would complete his search for a timeless and universal art. That search would lead him to the study of Mediterranean, ancient and most significantly pre-Columbian cultures. Interestingly, according to art historian Cecilia de Torres, Torres-García's affinity towards Amerindian art was probably triggered by his encounter with the Mexican artist David Alfaro Siqueiros whom he met in Barcelona in 1919 and with whom he collaborated on an issue of Vida Americana devoted to the indigenous traditions of the Americas. This interest was no doubt further nurtured by his first-hand exposure to pre-Columbian art and artifacts while in Paris, including the monumental 1928 exhibition Les arts anciens de l'Amérique at the Musée des Arts Décoratifs which included over one thousand objects—the first exhibition of this scope to be presented in a European museum. That following year, the artist's eldest son Augusto Torres secured a position at the Musée d'Ethnologie de Trocadéro cataloguing their collection of pre-Columbian pottery. The young Torres's position at the museum gave the elder Torres-García unlimited access to the collection which he feverishly studied including such objects as Nazca pottery and Peruvian textiles, as well as the monumental ancient stone carvings of Bolivia's Tihuanaco Gate of the Sun.

"This immersion into the ancient arts of the Americas provided Torres-García with the crucial element that would enable him to transition from pure geometry to a particular approach to abstraction simultaneously rooted in European vanguard practices and the archetypal and timeless forms of pre-Columbian art. Executed in 1931 at this critical juncture, Constructif avec rythme dentelé is an extraordinary example of this groundbreaking moment of innovation and experimentation that led Torres-García to develop his trademark style and which defines his unique contribution to the history of modern art - 'Constructive Universalism.' Indeed his interest in Amerindian cultures, as art historian Cecilia de Torres has rightly articulated, resided not in a superficial desire to 'extract decorative, exotic or folkloric elements from earlier art. [But rather] by understanding the metaphysical faith of the Indians and sharing in the transcendental essence of that faith, and particularly by sensing the way the relative or the particular was illuminated by a universal concept, Torres-García sought to enter into the spirit of the Indoamerican cultures so they could more accurately isolate and consolidate the geometry and the particular proportions that defined American art.' That search for a quintessentially American perspective distinct from the European approach to abstraction would likewise resonate with post-War North American artists, most notably among key members of the Abstract Expressionist movement, including Barnett Newman, Jackson Pollock, Mark Rothko and Adolph Gottlieb all of whom absorbed aspects of the archaic and the 'primitive' as a key source for evoking the essential and universal in their art.

"Torres-García's remarkable transition to this new art is evident in Constructif avec rythme dentelé in which the pure structure of geometric abstraction is infused with a timeless language that asserts the universality and humanistic values of non-figurative art across all cultures and ages. The word 'dentelé' in the title is French for 'shaped like teeth' and here refers to the jagged or serrated edges of the bands that separate various sections of the pictorial surface. The latter reflects the artist's absorption of the geometric forms of Nazca ceramics and the complex patterns of Wari (or Huari) textiles he had studied. Likewise Torres-García's use of an earth-toned palette of reds and ochres muted with white overtones suggest the polychrome surfaces of ancient artifacts. And, while the composition's overall proportions correspond to Torres-García's adherence to the principles of the classical practice of the Golden Section, the alternating horizontal and vertical bands suggests the intricately woven patterns of Peruvian textiles. Here too, the artist seamlessly combines the structure of Neo-Plasticism with the careful selection of a limited range of archetypal motifs positioned within the compartments created by the grid-based composition. The schematic, yet highly recognizable pictographs include a house, man, spade, irrigation pump, clock, ladder, ship, fish, and anchor - each employed for their symbolic import, rather then their mimetic function. Indeed, here Torres-García relied on the teachings of surrealism with regards to the power of the subconscious and associational. Upon encountering these images they inevitably trigger our imagination and experience. Despite their simplicity, their symbolic strength resides in their ability to communicate across civilizations - to convey the timeless and universal values of humanity. Therein lies the genuine contribution of Torres-García's unique art - his extraordinary ability to draw upon myriad traditions and sources in order to assert the common threads that unite all cultures and beings - a truly humanistic and utopian vision fueled by the spirit and promise of modernism."

The essay's points are well taken, but there is a very vast difference between the aesthetic worlds of Tamayo's "America" and this nice painting. There simply is no comparison in terms of power and composition and palette. Tamayo's work wins hands down.

"Sin Titulo" by Carrington

Lot 29, "Sin Titulo," by Leonora Carrington, oil on canvas, 13 1/8 by 31 78 inches, 1964

Lot 29 is an untitled painting by Leonora Carrington (b. 1917). An oil on canvas, it measures 13 1/8 by 31 7/8 inches and was created in 1964. It has an estimate of $175,000 to $225,000. It failed to sell.

"Planta Insumisa" by Varo

Lot 27, "Planta Insumisa," by Remedios Varo, oil on masonite, 33 1/8 by 24 3/8 inches, 1961

Lot 27 is an elliptical oil on masonite by Remedios Varo (1908-1963) that is entitled "Planta Insumisa." Painted in 1961, it measures 33 1/8 by 24 3/8 inches. It has been widely exhibited and published. It has an ambitious estimate of $1,400,000 to $1,800,000. It sold for $1,426,500.

The catalogue entry for this lot provides the following commentary:

"Remedios Varo's oneiric paintings represent an alchemic combination of varied sources ranging from philosophy, autobiography, engineering and architecture to occultism, psychology, spirituality and science. Collectively her oeuvre represents one of the most enigmatic and unique visions within the vanguard surrealist movement of the twentieth century. And, although her relationship with the French poet Benjamin Péret put Varo in direct contact with the members of the Parisian surrealist circle in the late 1930s and 1940s, it was not until the early 1950s that she devoted herself completely to painting. Indeed, it was not until Varo was living in Mexico as a member of the European ex-patriot community that she developed her mature style and produced a body of work that remains today as one of the most distinct contributions to the history and practice of surrealist art.

"Varo's paintings reveal intimate, fantastical scenes inhabited by otherworldly beings. As the daughter of a hydraulic engineer, Varo learned at an early age about perspective, mathematics and draftsmanship—all of which are masterfully on display in her paintings. Thus her miniature worlds are rendered with phenomenal precision which add to their overall illusory effects and seductive allure. Interestingly, despite Varo's early contact with the surrealists, it was not until she was obliged to uproot herself due to the circumstances of World War II, coupled with her position as an "outsider" within Mexico's cultural and intellectual vanguard, that she successfully liberated herself from the constraints of the tenets of surrealism. The latter enabled Varo to develop a unique voice still guided by the principles of the movement, but unencumbered by its limitations—particularly those circumscribed to women. One such example is Varo's frequent use of references in her paintings to domestic interiors (such as the boudoir or kitchen) or practices traditionally associated with "women's work" (such as weaving, knitting and embroidery) as a way of countering male dominant imagery and as art historian Janet A. Kaplan asserts, "thus transferring power across gender lines and conferring heroic authority on women."1 The latter is evident in the painting, Planta insumisa, in which the stems of the plants and the hair growing from the scientist's head are inexplicably sprouting facts and equations rendered in a detailed lettering akin to needle-point or embroidery. The prevalent use of decalcomania, the surrealist technique of blotting paint on the pictorial surface in order to obtain unexpected results, is another example of how Varo resorted to the accepted repertoire of "tricks" but often subverted its meaning by employing it at cross-purposes. In works like Planta insumisa, Varo uses decalcomania not as a technical strategy associated with the surrealist penchant for chance, but rather as an opening to a mysterious world ruled not by unpredictability, but by meticulously rendered imagery.

"Executed in 1961, Planta insumisa reveals Varo's life-long fascination with science and nature which she seemed to enjoy with an almost childlike sense of wonderment. And, perhaps it was her early exposure to science and to the importance of gathering quantifiable data that fueled her adventurous spirit and inquisitive nature—one for example that would famously prompt her to join an expedition to the Orinoco region in South America to study insects that she would later draw as part of a campaign in the region against malaria. But alas, Varo's insatiable appetite for systemized knowledge was equally tempered by her love of all things empirical, spiritual and supernatural. As is evident in this painting where Varo makes an ironic, yet sobering statement about the perils of scientific intervention on nature such as those hailed by genetic engineering and other advancements aimed to disrupt, control and or enhance natural phenomena. Varo's own description of the painting is full of humor and wit as she asserts her mistrust of science while reveling in the sheer beauty and mystery of nature: "This scientist is experimenting with different plants and vegetables. He is somewhat bewildered because there is an unruly plant. All the plants are growing shoots in the form of mathematical figures and formulas, except for one that insists on producing a flower. And the only mathematical branch it sprouted at the beginning, which drooped onto the table, is very withered and weak and, besides, is mistaken for it says 'two plus two is almost four.' Each hair on the scientist's head is a mathematical equation."

"Indeed the young botanist's latest experiment has no doubt con awry—his quantifiable world of facts and figures has been thrown into utter disarray by a most rebellious specimen threatening the very foundations of his theories. Here Varo depicts the pitfalls of a universe subjugated by control and overtaken by ultra rational and mathematical forces. And, while the immediate subject of her painting is science, it is indeed quite tempting to interpret the subject of the "unsubmissive plant" in the context of Varo's own stance against authority and power. As a woman, artist, exile, and foreigner, Varo often found herself at odds with authority and rather than submit to their whims she acted much like the unruly flower in her painting—challenging accepted norms and forging ahead with a highly independent and innovative vision. Perhaps it was this indomitable spirit that enabled her to witness first-hand some of the most extraordinary and horrific events of the twentieth-century, yet still emerge from that experience with a profound sense of optimism and self-empowerment—ready to conquer the challenges and opportunities of modernity."

"Sans Titre (mask)" by Lam

Lot 75, "Sans Titre (mask),"by Wilfredo Lam, oil on canvas,19 1/2 by 15 3/4 inches, 1970

Lot 75 is a quite colorful and small oil on canvas by Wilfredo Lam (1902-1982). Entitled "Sans Titre (mask)," it measures 19 1/2 by 15 3/4 inches. It was created in 1970 and has an estimate of $60,000 to $80,000. It sold for $104,500.

"Diva," by Julio Larraz

Lot 55, "Diva," By Julio Larraz, oil on canvas, 59 5/8 by 71 5/8 inches, 2004

Lot 55 is an intriguing oil on canvas by Julio Larraz (b. 1944) entitled "Diva." An attractive woman is seated in a yacht or plane next to portholes with a glass and carafe of wine and flowers in a vase on a white tablecloth in front of her. She is wearing a black evening gown and bears a very strong resemblance to a famous woman in a painting by a famous American painter. The lot has an estimate of $125,000 to $175,000. It sold for $170,500.

"Annunciation (vanitas)' by Bravo

Lot 56, "Annunciacion (vanitas)," by Claudio Bravo, oil on canvas, 39 1/4 by 82 5/8 inches, 1992

Claudio Bravo (b. 1936) is one of the most facile and talented Latin American artists who is best known for his studies of drapery and wrapping. Lot 56 is his take on the Annunciation and it is a great composition with the angel blowing bubbles. An oil on canvas, it measures 39 1/4 by 82 5/8 inches. It was created in 1992. It has an estimate of $550,000 to $750,000. It failed to sell.

"El Encuentro" by Botello

Lot 257, "El Encuentro," by Angel Botello, oil on canvas, 31 5/8 by 35 3/4 inches, circa 1950

Lot 257 is a strong and good oil on canvas by Angel Botello (1913-1986) that is entitled "El Encuentro." It measures 31 5/8 by 35 3/4 inches and was painted circa 1950. It has an estimate of $45,000 to $55,000. It sold for $56,250.

"Personajes Construidos" by Gurvich

Lot 20, "Personajes Construidos," by José Gurvich, oil and collage on masonite, 31 by 29 inches, circa 1961

Lot 20 is a fine abstraction of three people in front of a table covered with food by José Gurvich (1927-1974). Entitled "Personajes Construidos," it is an oil and colloage on masonite that measures 31 by 29 inches and was painted circa 1961. It has an estimate of $80,000 to $100,000. It sold for $98,500.

"Ardoise" by Segui

Lot 149, "Ardoise," by Antonio Segui, acrylic on canvas, 59 1/8 by 63 inches, circa 1986-7

Lot 149 is a large acrylic on canvas by Antonio Segui (b. 1934) that is entitled "Ardoise." Unlike many of his works that are densely filled with objects and people, this work has fewer but larger people - all men with hats - and very slender and tall structures. It is a dark painting with blacks and browns. It measures 59 1/8 by 63 inches and was painted circa 1986-7. It has an estimate of $60,000 to $80,000. It sold for $68,500.

Two paintings by Rodolfo Nieto

Lot 214, Untitled, by Rodolfo Nieto, oil on canvas, 38 by 50 1/2 inches, left, and Lot 137, "Abstracto #1," by Rodolfo Nieto, oil on canvas, 25 3/4 by 21 3/8 inches, right

One of the most striking paintings in the auction is Lot 214, an untitled oil on canvas by Rodolfo Nieto (1936-1988). It measures 38 by 50 1/2 inches. It has an estimate of $20,000 to $25,000. It sold for $50,000. Another abstraction by Nieto is Lot 137, an oil on canvas that measures 25 3/4 by 21 3/8 inches. It has an estimate of $15,000 to $20,000. It failed to sell.

Untitled by Nieto

Lot 183, "Sin Titulo," by Rodolfo Nieto, oil on canvas, 23 5/8 by 28 7/8 inches

Another fine abstraction by Nieto is Lot 183. An oil on canvas, it measures 23 5/8 by 28 7/8 inches. It has an estimate of $18,000 to $22,000. It failed to sell.

"Camuflaje" by Tacla

Lot 211, "Camuflaje," by Jorge Tacla, oil and marble dust on canvas, 60 1/8 by 59 7/8 inches, 2005

Lot 211 is a striking work by Jorge (b. 1958). Entitled "Camuflaje," it is oil and marble dust on canvas and measures 60 1/8 by 59 7/8 inches. It has an estimate of $15,000 to $20,000. It sold for $15,000.

"Tonantzin" by Gerzso

Lot 195, "Tonantzin," by Gunther Gerzso, silver,15 7/8 inches high, numbered 24/38

Lot 195 is a fine small silver sculpture by Gunther Gerzso (1915-2000) who is best known for his paintings. Entitled "Tonantzin," it is 15 7/8 inches high and is numbered 24/38. It has an esttmate of $15,000 to $20,000. It failed to sell.

"Paisaje: Amarillo-Negro" by Gerzso

Lot 30, "Paisaje: Amarillo-Negro," by Gunther Gerzso, oil on canvas,32 1/8 by 21 1/4 inches

Lot 30 is an unusual vertical abstraction that is not sharply defined by Gunther Gerzso (1915-2000). Entitled "Paisaje: Amarillo-Negro," it is oil on canvas that measures 32 1/8 by 21 1/4 inches. It has an estimate of $60,000 to $80,000. It sold for $62,500.

"Blanco Naranja-Azul" by Gerzso

Lot 200, "Blanco Naranja-Azul,"by Gunther Gerzso, oil and sand on masonite, 11 7/8 by 14 1/8 inches, 1990

Lot 200 is a typical and good Gerzso abstraction that was created in 1990. Entitled "Blanco Naranja-Azul, it is an oil and sand on masonite that measures 11 7/8 by 14 1/8 inches. It has an estimate of $25,000 to $35,000. It sold for $22,500.

"Homenaje a la Primavera" by Gerzso

Lot 192, "Homenaje a la Primavera," by Gunther Gerzso, oil on cardboard, 19 7/8 by 14 3/4 inches, 1958

The most striking Gerzso painting in the auction is Lot 192 which is entitled "Homenaje a la Primavera." An oil on cardboard, it measures 19 7/8 by 14 3/4 inches. It was created in 1958 and has an estimate of $30,000 to $40,000. It failed to sell.

"Poetica Lunar IV" by Coronel

Lot 33, "Poetica Lunar IV," by Pedro Coronel, oil on canvas, 93 5/8 by 63 inches, 1972

Lot 33 is a strong abstraction by Pedro Coronel (1923-1985) that is entitled "Poetica Lunar IV." An oil on canvas, it measures 93 5/8 by 63 inches and was created in 1972. It has an estimate of $175,000 to $225,000. It sold for $194,500.

"Ciudad Prohibida (V)" by de Szyszlo

Lot 203, "Ciudad Prohibida (V)," by Fernando de Szyszlo, oil on canvas, 79 1/8 by 78 7/8 inches

Lot 203 is a vibrant red abstraction by Fernando de Szyszlo (b. 1925) that is entitled "Ciudad Prohibida (V)." An oil on canvas, it measures 79 1/8 by 78 7/8 inches. It has an estimate of $35,000 to $40,000. It sold for $80,500.

"Plant Antillaise" by Cardenas

Lot 32, "Plant Antillaise," by Agustin Cardenas, wood, 83 1/8 by 7 by 7 inches, circa 1960-1

One of the loveliest sculptures in the auction is Lot 32, "Plant Antillaise," by Agustin Cardenas (1927-2001). The wood sculpture is 83 1/8 inches high and was created in 1960-1. It has an estimate of $175,000 to $225,000. It sold for $230,500.

"Lagarto" by Toledo

Lot 22, "Lagarto," by Francisco Toledo, patinated silver, 33 inches long, number 1/6, 2008

Francisco Toledo (b. 1940) is one of the greatest contemporary Latin American artists who is best known for his paintings and drawings. This sculpture of an alligator is made of patinated silver and is 33 inches long. It is number 1/6 and was executed in 2008. It has an estimate of $50,000 to $70,000. It sold for $98,500.

See The City Review article on the Fall 2008 Latin American Art auction at Christie's

See The City Review article on the Spring 2008 Latin American Art auction at Christie's

See The City Review article on the Spring 2008 Latin American Art auction at Sotheby's

See The City Review article on the Fall 2007 Latin American Art auction at Christie's

See The City Review article on the Fall 2007 Latin American Art auction at Sotheby's

See The City Review article on the Spring 2007 Latin American Art auction at Christie's

See The City Review article on the Fall 2006 Latin American Art auction at Sotheby's

See The City Review article on the Fall 2006 Latin American Art auction at Christie's

See The City Review article on the Spring 2005 Latin American Art auction at Sotheby's

See The City Review article on the Fall 2005 Latin American Art auction at Sotheby's

See The City Review article on the Fall 2005 Latin American Art auction at Christie's

See The City Review article on the Fall 2004 Latin American Art auction at Sotheby's

See The City Review Article on the Spring 2004 Latin American Art auction at Sotheby's

See The City Review article on the Fall 2003 Latin American Art auction at Sotheby's

See The City Review article on the Fall 2003 Latin American Art auction at Christie's

See The City Review article on the Spring 2003 Latin American Art auction at Christie's

See The City Review article on the Spring 2003 Latin American Art auction at Sotheby's

See The City Review article on the Fall 2002 Latin American Art auction at Sotheby's

See The City Review article on the Fall 2002 Latin American Art auction at Christie's

See The City Review article on the Spring 2002 Latin American Art auction at Sotheby's

See The City Review article on the Spring 2002 Latin American Art auction at Christie's

See The City Review article on the Fall 2001 Latin American Art evening auction at Sotheby's

See The City Review article on the November 19, 2001 Latin American Art evening auction at Christie's

See The City Review article on the Latin American Art evening Auction at Sotheby's in the spring of 2001

See The City Review article on the Latin American Art evening auction at Christie's, May 30, 2001

See The City Review article on the Fall 2000 Latin American Art auction at Sotheby's

See The City Review article on the Spring Latin American Art auction at Sotheby's

See The City Review article on the Spring 2000 Latin American Art auction at Christie's

See The City Review article on the Fall 1999 Latin American Art auction at Sotheby's

See The City Review article on the Spring, 1999 Latin American Art auction at Sotheby's

See The City Review article on The Latin American Sale at Christie's in New York in June, 1999

Recap of Pre-Columbian Art auction at Sotheby's, Nov. 23, 1998

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