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Sotheby’s New York Latin American Art Sale

Sotheby’s fall evening sale of Latin American Art will take place on Wednesday 18 November 2009 and will be led by one of the most lyrical surrealist paintings by Roberto Matta ever to appear at auction. Endless Nudes, estimated at $2-3 million is an abstract work filled with volcanic eruptions that create bodies fused with the landscape. This fall marks the 30 years since Sotheby’s held the first ever Latin American Art auction in New York, a pioneering move that was first undertaken with the Centre for Inter-American Relations (now the Americas Society). The Latin American Art sale continues the following morning on Thursday 19 November 2009.

Roberto Matta
Roberto Matta, Endless Nudes, est. $2-3 million. Photo: Sotheby’s

Discussing the sale Carmen Melián, Head of Sotheby’s Latin American Art Department said: “Thirty years ago Sotheby’s broke new ground in holding the first ever dedicated auction of Latin American art in New York. I am delighted that on this important anniversary we are offering one of the most important surrealist paintings to ever appear at auction by Roberto Matta – Endless Nudes. The non-figurative tradition of Latin American art is also strongly represented by a rare cubist Diego Rivera and a constructivist painting Joaquin Torres Garcia. Among the other highlights are works by Leonora Carrington, Fernando Botero, Rufino Tamayo and a strong representation of Brazilian contemporary art.”

Roberto Matta’s Endless Nudes was partly inspired by a trip he made to Mexico in the summer of 1941. The volcanic activity he witnessed that summer was to inspire many paintings, and this influence is clearly discernable in the patches of intense light that appear to be rising up into the dark grey above. Despite being an abstract painting both volcanic activity and human limbs are suggested clearly in the swirling waves of light and dark. This colour contrast divides the painting into two sections, a division that implies both a landscape of earth and sky or possibly even male and female united by the erupting central column.

Endless Nudes was featured in the groundbreaking exhibition at the Pierre Matisse Gallery in April 1942. This exhibition helped to usher in a new style of painting, one that used transparent layers through which dense sections of bright light could be glimpsed, acting like a window into the inner fires of the Earth. Many of the attributes of Endless Nudes went on to influence the work of Abstract Expressionism, the important artistic development whose main proponents, such as Jackson Pollock, Robert Motherwell and Arshile Gorky, had known Matta’s work.

Other surrealist paintings the sale includes Le Grand Adieu by English-born Leonora Carrington, one of the last remaining living artists of the original surrealist group in
Paris. The work is fresh to the market having not appeared at auction for 15 years and is estimated at $400/600,000. Another Carrington, Naturaleza Muerta from 1960, estimated at $125/175,000 is also included in the sale.

A further highlight is Naturaleza Muerta En Óvalo by Diego Rivera which is estimated at $600/800,000. Rivera was one of the leading lights of the Mexican Muralist movement, and unbeknownst by many, also one of the earliest pioneers of abstraction in both Europe and Latin America. This cubist painting comes from a period when he was experimenting widely including the use of trompe l’oeil techniques to obtain the cork like texture in the background of the painting. The current work was acquired from the artist by Enrique Freyman who was the Mexican cultural attaché in Paris and one of the artist’s great early supporters.

Joaquín Torres-García, was one of the pioneers of Latin American modernism and his 1942 work Construcción Infinito features in the sale with an estimate of $400/600,000.

Latin American abstraction is represented in the sale by many of the key artists of the movement such as Jesús Rafael Soto whose Pequeña Escritura Negra from 1975 is estimated at $100/150,000. Mensaje by Mathías Goeritz is a work from the artist’s Messages series in which he covered wood stretchers with gold leaf in a quest for creative anonymity. The current work is one of two Messages that were made in 1979 to decorate the ARCO headquarters in Denver, Colorado and is estimated at $150/170,000.

As always Mexico is strongly represented in the sale with three works by Rufino Tamayo. Pareja en Gris, from the Collection of Mary Shiller Myers and estimated at $400/600,000, depicts a couple against a backdrop of stars and moons, combining two of the artist’s major themes of figures and the universe. The
cosmos is also the theme of another Tamayo painting, the mystic Constelación from 1947 estimated at $250/350,000.

Other highlights include a number of works by the distinguished Colombian artist Fernando Botero. El Picador, a painting depicting bullfighting scene also comes from the Myers Collection and is estimated to fetch $400/600,000. Bullfighting was one of the artist’s most important themes, having been taken to watch the spectacle as a boy by his uncle. This work comes from a series from the 1980’s in which he revisits the Corrida. Also by Botero are Ballerini, Piccolo Donna Su Gradino, a quintessential sculpture of a dancing couple estimated at $400/600,000 and Donna Seduta, a luscious female nude estimated at $250/350,000.

The Cuban Vanguardia movement of the 1940’s is represented by Mariano Rodríguez’s Guajiro con Gallo (Man with Rooster) which was exhibited in the groundbreaking 1944 exhibition at the Museum of Modern Art ‘Modern Cuban Paintings’ and is estimated at $125/175,000.

Works by the most prominent Brazilian contemporary artists also feature in the sale including Sergio Camargo’s Relief from 1964, which was exhibited at the 1966 Venice Biennale and is estimated at $350/450,000, Cildo Meirele’s Jogo de Velha – Série C 6B, made of interlaced wood rulers and estimated at $60/80,000, Frans Krajcberg’s Raízes estimated at $80/100,000 and Figura de Convite by Adriana Varejão estimated at $150/200,000.

The works will be on exhibition at Sotheby’s York Avenue galleries from Sunday 14 November – Wednesday 18 November.