Carter B. Horsley
Serious collectors of Modern
Art do themselves
a serious disservice if they miss the major Latin American Art
auctions for in recent years they have offered not only some remarkable
individual works but have also demonstrated that numerous Latin
American artists have created oeuvres of great and by no means
While Matta (b. 1911), Wilfredo
and Rufino Tamayo (1899-1991) are the three giants of modern Latin
American Art, there are many other artists truly deserving of
higher international stature such as Àngel Zàrraga
(1886-1946), Carlos Mérida (1891-1984) Gunther Gerzso (b.
1915), Leonora Carrington (b. 1917), Armando Morales (b. 1927),
Fernando Botero (b. 1932), Francesco Toledo (b. 1940), and Claudio
Bravo (b. 1946), among others.
In recent years, Frieda Kahlo
has become much more well-known. The wife of Diego Rivera (1886-1957),
another great Latin American artist, she has become a rather romantic
figure and graces the cover of this auction’s catalogue with
her self-portrait, Lot 15. A 20 ½-by-24-inch oil on masonite,
shown above, painted in 1929, which has an estimate of $3,000,000
to $4,000,000, the highest in the auction and an indication of
the slow but steady escalation of values in this field, which
still offers many collectors wonderful opportunities.
Kahlo painted 66
self-portraits, the first
three years before this one while recuperating from a bus accident
that left her a partial cripple. "I paint self-portraits,
because I am so often alone, because I am the person I know best,"
she is quoted as having said in the catalogue. In this painting,
she is wearing a peasant blouse with a necklace of Pre-Columbia
jade beads and Colonial earrings. "The emphasis on Mexicaness….is
something that came into her work after she became involved with
muralist Diego Rivera, who became to court her I 1928 and whom
she married in October, 1929," the catalogue noted, adding
her "folkloric style….suggests her allegiance to what
she called ‘my people,'" and that "As part of their
revaluing of their country’s native culture, both she and
Rivera emulated the broad simplification of form and color seen
in paintings by nineteen century Mexican limners such as José
María Estrada." A second airplane in the sky was painted
out by Kahlo, "probably because it made the composition too
busy," the catalogue stated.
"In the 1929 Self-Portrait we
see a half-innocent,
half-insolent girl/woman who not long before had taken her paintings
to show Rivera, who was at work on his vast mural cycle for Mexico
City’s Ministry of Education. She commanded the great maestro
to come down from his scaffold and to give his opinion as to whether
it was worth her while to go on painting….In the painting,
a ferocity of will lies behind her cool but penetrating gaze,"
wrote Hayden Herrera in the catalogue entry for the work.
The painting was only
her second self-portrait
and one of the largest.
The Kahlo painting
sold for $5,065,750 including
the buyer's premium, as do all sales results in this article,
and that easily set new auction records for a woman artist, for
Latin American Art and for her. The previous auction record for
a woman artist was about $4.5 million for a Mary Cassatt. Another
Kahlo self-portrait had previously sold for about $3.2 million
in a Sotheby's 1995 auction. When August O. Uribe, the auctioneer
who was formerly head of the Latin American Department and is
now head of paintings for the West Coast, knocked his gavel down
on the Kahlo, the more than 800 people attending the auction burst
into applause. Isabelle Hutchinson, the current head of the Latin
American Department, said after the sale that the Kahlo was bought
by an American private collector and that Americans had purchased
half of the top ten lots.
Despite the great
success of the Kahlo,
the sale was rather disappointing with only 47 of the 75 offered
lots selling, or just 62.67 percent, a poor showing, especially
as most of the lots that did sell sold at the lower end of their
estimates, or below. The evening part of the two-day auction realized
a total of $11,517,700, or a bit under its pre-sale estimate of
about $11.7- to $15-million, Ms. Hutchinson said. Ms. Hutchinson
made the quite valid point at the post-sale press conference that
the excellent price for the Kahlo will bring a lot more attention
to Latin American art. She also remarked that it was a "very
interesting, very black-and-white sale: when there was no interest,
the lots passed...and some really beautiful pieces ended up not
In dramatic contrast with the
rather dour Kahlo
self-portrait is Lot 32, Àngel Zàrraga’s "Portrait
of Mademoiselle Marcelle Schmidt," a 39 3/8-by-31 7/8-inch
oil on canvas, dated 1917, is a very joyful and very beautiful
work highly influenced by Cubism, Fauvism and Matisse. Professor
Paulette Patrout writes in the catalogue entry about the artist’s
use of pointillist textures in the background and notes an "abundance
of perfect circles and spheres; the head, the shoulders, the discrete
jewel, the breast, the pearls, the bright fruit." "In
brief, a sumptuous canvas of perfect Cubist technique happily
released from the excessive rigors that this ‘discipline’
could now. It announces the appearance of an renewed classicism,
enriched by the considerable contributions of Cubism. Closer to
this neoclassicism, Àngel Zàrraga would soon be
painting another portrait of the same actress, in a more rigid
attitude, a barer dress, in the role of a tragic queen. However,
in this impressive canvas, she plays no doubt, the elegant young
lady of a romantic comedy."
The work is a truly stunning
example of the
tradition between the Cubism of Picasso, Gris and Braque and Delaunay
and the neo-classicism of Léger. The former generally was
too severe, too intellectual and too dense. The latter often fell
into repetitive stylistic decoration. This vibrant, highly readible
work is voluptuous, festive and alive and yet retains enough visual
mystery to generate more interest than mere decorative patterning.
The work has an estimate of $300,000 to $400,000. It sold for
$566,750, an auction record for the artist. Another Zárraga,
Lot 3, "La Couture Au Jardin," a very pleasant but far
less pyrotechnical, 21 3/4-by-15-inch oil on canvas of a woman
sewing in a garden, sold for $81,250, more than double its high
While Kahlo may be the best
known Latin American
woman artist, Leonora Carrington is the best artistically. The
wife for a while of Max Ernst, she painted in a poetic, surreal
style that was delicate and whimsical. Lot 21, "The Flying
Ur Jar," shown above, a 25 1/2-by-18 1/4-inch oil on canvas
that was executed in 1953, is a fine example of her work. It has
an estimate of $125,000 to $175,000. It sold for $170,750.
The catalogue provides the
about Carrington and this work by Susan Aberth:
"By 1953 the British-born
Carrington was into her eleventh year of living in Mexico. The
1950's would prove to be a decade of enormous artistic development
for this fiercely original and visionary artist whose social milieu
included many other extraordinarily talented members of the European
Surrealist émigré community such as Luis Bunuel,
Benjamin Péret, Kati and José Horna, Wolfgang Paalen,
and Alice Rahon. In particular, her close friendship and artistic
collaboration with Remedios Varo gave fresh impetus to her life-long
exploration of esoteric knowledge and hermetic traditions. Carrington's
interest in ancient civilizations - Mesopotamian, Egyptian and
Minoan - is evident in the fantastic architectonic structures
of The Flying Ur Jar whose monumental proportions and arid atmosphere
bring to mind such archaeological sites as the Ziggurat of Ur.
Ever eschewing any identifiable elements, Carrington synthesizes
multiple architectural styles which are then channeled through
her own idiosyncratic imagination to produce a vista at once utterly
alien and yet hauntingly familiar. It is this perpetual tension
between the real and the imagined that lends her work its compelling
nature and is an idiom she shares with other Surrealists."
Lot 105, "Hooded Figure," by
Carrington, gouache, wax crayon, graphite and gold paint on paper
laid done on board, 15 1/4 by 11 inches, is another fine, delicate
work, shown above. The trapezoidal work was formerly in the collection
of the estate of Roland Penrose. It has a conservative estimate
of $10,000 to $15,000. It did not sell.
Another great mystic artist is
(1908-1963) who is well presented in the auction by Lot 50, "Mujer
con Espera," oil on panel, 13 by 12 1/2 inches, circa 1957.
The quite lovely work has an estimate of $40,000 to $60,000. It
sold for $64,000.
The catalogue entry for Lot 9,
(Origine d'un Extrême), by Matta, a 29 3/8-by-37 3/8-inch
oil on canvas, shown below, includes a remarkable historic photograph,
shown above, of the famous artists including him who exhibited
in the "Artists in Exile" exhibition at the Pierre Matisse
Gallery in New York in March, 1940. Matta is shown seated in the
first row on the far left.
(Origine d'un Extrême), by Matta, a 29 3/8-by-37 3/8-inch
oil on canvas that was executed in 1941. It has an estimate of
$600,000 to $800,000. It sold for only $555,750.
Matta’s works rarely do not
this one is particularly awesome, even in an era of fantastic
computer graphics, for its mysterious, mystic, supernatural and
"The contradictory modes of
in The Initiation ...contain the seeds of the style
was to use with such brilliance for many years to come, a style
which enabled him to break the barriers of the visually perceived
world and the tyranny of Euclidian geometry in order to suggest
the simultaneous experience of multiple points in time and unlimited
spaces," wrote Martica Sawin in the catalogue's entry for
this lot. "In the fall of 1939," the entry continued,
"shortly after the outbreak of World War II, Matta Echaurren
arrived in New York with his American wife, Anne Clark. Two years
earlier he had become the youngest member of the Paris-based Surrealist
group, many of whose members were also refugees in New York during
the war years. Julian Levy, whose gallery had been an American
outpost for Surrealism during the 1930s, gave him a dramatically
installed show six months after his arrival, and through Yves
Tanguy and Kay Sage he soon met a number of younger American artists
who were attracted by his charisma as well as his novel approach
to painting. When the young English Surrealist Gordon Onslow Ford
arrived in New York in June, 1940, he and Matta resumed the pursuit
of a shared painting philosophy that they had begun to develop
in Paris in 1937. Psychological Morphology was the name Matta
gave to their visionary approach to making visible what lies beyond
the visible. In the spring of 1941, the Swiss-born Surrealist
Kurt Seligmann planned a trip to Mexico with his two students,
Robert Motherwell and Barbara Reis. When it became impossible
for the Seligmanns to make the trip, the Mattas were enlisted
to take their place and they all appear spent the summer in Taxco,
meeting every day, according to Matta "in a bar across from
Another excellent Matta is Lot
Femme Affamée," a 36-by-30-inch oil on canvas, shown
below, is particularly striking. Painted in 1945, it has an estimate
of $200,000 to $250,000. It sold for $324,750.
"First exhibited in March,
1945, at Matta's
one man show at the Pierre Matisse Gallery in New York as Hungry
Woman, this is, perhaps, one of Matta's most visceral
The colors, broad brush strokes, bands of sound and imagery propel
the painting with a primal voice," the catalogue noted.
If Matta is the super visionary
of Latin American
art, then Rufino Tamayo is its earthy, heated incarnation and
Lot 38, "Cabeza en Blanco," a 19 3/4-by-13 7/8-inch
oil on canvas, was executed in 1970 and has an estimate of $125,000
to $175,000 and is a good example of his colorful and textural
style. It sold for $132,250.
good Tamayo is Lot
36, "Sleepwalker," a 25 3/4-by-39 5/8-inch oil on canvas.
The 1954 work, shown below, has an estimate of $300,000 to $400,000.
It sold for $291,750.
Tamayo was also a fine sculptor
and Lot 19,
"Mujer," is a typical work, a 851/2-inch high steel
sculpture with a unique patina that is number 3 of an edition
of 3 and was executed in 1990. It has an estimate of $250,000
to $300,000. It sold for $291,750.
Wilfredo Lam’s work is much
and less surprising than either Matta’s or Tamayo’s,
but not much less powerful. Lot
untitled, by Wilfredo
Lam, shown above, is a gouache on paper mounted on canvas, 35
7/8 by 48 inches, circa 1938. It has a conservative estimate of
$125,000 and $175,000. It sold for $192,750.
untitled, by Wilfredo
Lam, oil on canvas, 36 1/4 by 28 3/4 inches, 1963, is a fine example
of his work and has an estimate of $130,000 to $160,000. It
sold for $137,750.
One of the major
disappointments of the
auction was Lot 12, "Ceux de la porte Battante," a large
grisaille painting by Lam, executed in 1945, that had an estimate
of $800,000 to $1,000,000 and was passed at $725,000.
Matta and Lam were great
intellectuality did not spawn too many imitators, but Tamayo’s
influence was in fact much greater in Latin American art for his
rich and colorfully hot palette and painterly textures would find
kindred spirits in the works of much younger artists such as Francisco
Toledo among others, all of whom find individual ways to recall,
conjure, honor and respect many of Latin America’s deepest
cultural roots in Pre-Columbia times and cultures.
The auction's most startling
work is Lot 73,
"Volantín Marciano," by Alejandro Colunga (b.
1948), shown above, an oil on canvas with wooden sculptural
135 3/4 by 160 by 6 inches, 1997, that is immensely amusing and
imaginative and should be included in any exhibition of great
frames by artists. It has a conservative estimate of $35,000 to
$45,000. It sold for $30,650.
Lot 46, "Paisaje Rojo;
5," by Gunther Gerzso, a very fine double-sided
oil on canvas, 34 1/2 by 25 5/8 inches, 1958. It has a conservative
estimate of $35,000 to $45,000. It sold for $87,000.
Lot 146, "Paisaje," by Gunther
oil on board, 22 1/2 by 16 inches, 1958. It has an estimate of
$30,000 to $35,000. It sold for $32,250.
Another Gerzso work is Lot 147,
a very fine bronze sculpture with green patina, 26 1/2 by 23 3/4
inches. The work is number 3 of an edition of 6 and is dated 1888.
It has a conservative estimate of $25,000 to $35,000. It sold
Two of the handsomest works in
are Lots 23 and 52, both by Armando Morales (b. 1927). The former
is entitled "La Gare II,"and is a 31 1/2-by-40-inch
oil on canvas that has a conservative estimate of $80,000 to $100,000.
It sold for $148,750. The latter is entitled "Femme
II," and is a 39 1/4 by 31 3/4 inch oil on canvas that was
executed in 1984 and has a conservative estimate of $125,000 to
$165,000. It was passed at $75,000. Both are superb
of this artist's eerie but elegant, romantic and mysterious
that are extremely painterly.
Lot 1, an anonymous
early 17th Century Mexican
painting of the Virgin painted with feathers, gold leaf and amate
paper collage on copper sheet, 19 5/8 by 13 7/8 inches, sold for
$126,750, more than double its high estimate.
Lot 43, a very
handsome ebony sculpture
entitled "Totem," by Agustin Cárdenas (b. 1927)
sold for $55,375 and had a high estimate of $30,000.
of the sale included
Lot 22, "Grafismo Indo-Americano," a 21-by-31 oil on
board by Joaquin Torres-Garcia (1874-1949), which had a low estimate
of $300,000 and was passed at $190,000; Lot 24, "Enterro
(Saga Nordestina)," by Candido Portinari (1903-1962), which
had a low estimate of $180,000 and was passed at $120,000.