Auctions USA

Boteros flood Latin American market

Too many pieces by the artist lead to lower prices but other work, especially contemporary, sees record-setting sales

new york. Auction houses take a risk with single-artist sales that can flood the market with excess inventory and lower prices. Sotheby’s sale of 21 pieces by Colombian Fernando Botero on 25 May at New York’s Latin American auctions did both in the short term, while bolstering the house’s bottom line along the way. The sale brought in a total of $7.5m (premium included), accounting for nearly 28% of Sotheby’s two-day $26.9m sale, its highest tally since spring 2008.

“Fernando Botero: A Celebration” was one of three consecutive auctions for the evening, and was put together mainly from two private collections. Five of the 21 lots failed to find buyers, and most of the accepted bids came in at the lower end of their pre-sale estimates. The three top lots were sold to an Asian private collector, a segment of the market where interest has grown in recent years. Sotheby’s Axel Stein told The Art Newspaper, “Today Europeans, mostly French and Spanish and Italians, buy Botero and he has a big market in the US as well as in Southeast Asia, Singapore and Hong Kong, and even the Russians are buying.”

Fourteen additional Botero’s came up for auction at Christie’s following the Sotheby’s sale, bringing the count to 36 pieces on the block in just three days. Christie’s expert Virgilio Garza commented, “Even though the market for Botero is super healthy you can only absorb so much.” Six works there failed to find buyers at and most of the sales also came in at the low end of estimates. Despite the setback, Garza maintains that the auction house is committed to selling the artist’s work saying, “we really need the Botero market.”

Top paintings by Latin American modernists from a private collection led Sotheby’s second evening auction. An anonymous bidder purchased three stars of the night: The top lot, Rufino Tamayo’s 1946 Madre Divirtiendo a Su Hijo sold for $1.2m (total with buyer’s premium $1.4 million, est $1m-1.5m); Diego Rivera’s 1913 cubist landscape, The Old Hamlet of Toledo for $825,000 (total $992,500, est $900,000-$1.2m); and Roberto Matta’s 1938 psychological dreamscape Morphology of Desire for $750,000 (total $902,500, est $700,000-$900,000). Perhaps the biggest surprise of the evening came when Frida Kahlo’s cameo-sized self-portrait painted for her Catalan lover Josep Bartolí (est $800,000-$1.2m) failed to sell, presumably owing to its diminutive scale and its large price tag. The Kahlo was sold privately by Sotheby’s following the auction.

The auction’s momentum picked-up significantly as two contemporary Brazilian pieces came on the block during the final, more general sale of the evening. The room was energized as Sergio Camargo’s constructivist Relief 13/83, soared past its high estimate selling for $700,000 (total $842,500, est $400,000-$600,000) to a private South American collector. And conceptualist Cildo Meireles’ installation In-Mensa climbed to a record setting $430,000 (total $518,500, est $80,000-$100,000) to a South American dealer. “The tremendous strength of the Brazilian economy is pushing prices up,” commented dealer Henrique Faria after the sale. He added, “The auction houses have to start looking at other markets and should include more contemporary work. We’re ready for a change.”

At Christie’s evening auction the following day the mood was upbeat and sales were brisk prompting dealer Mary-Anne Martin to comment, “The atmosphere was like the old days. People were bidding on the phones and in the room, there was electricity.”

Although the works with the highest estimates, Rufino Tamayo’s Serenata a la Luna (est $900,000-$1.2m) and Fernando Botero’s Colombian Landscape (est $800,000-$1.2m) failed to sell, upbeat bidding continued throughout the night. Christie’s two-day sale brought in $22.6m, with 75% of the 335 lots selling through.

Miguel Covarrubias’ Offering of Fruits for the Temple of 1932 painted during his extensive travels in Bali was the highlight of the evening selling for $850,000 (total $1m, est $200,000-$300,000) to an Indonesian collector. The rare work by the anthropologist, writer and artist came from a private Mexican collection, and was the top lot setting an auction record for the artist. South American private collectors purchased Emiliano di Calvalcanti’s Sonhos do Carnival for $650,000 ($782,500, est $650,000-$850,000) and Tamayo’s steel sculpture, Figure Sideral of 1990 which rocketed past its presale estimate to $410,000 (total $494,500, est $180,000-$220,000).

The evening auction ended strongly with work by three contemporary Brazilian artists: Beatriz Milhazes, Vik Muniz, and Adriana Varejão. When asked if Christie’s would consider incorporating more contemporary work in its future sales, Garza responded, “We always include contemporary art, but we focus on modern art—that is our strength.”

More from The Art Newspaper


2 Jun 11
18:48 CET


Sotheby's has listed lot 245, a 1983 graphite drawing by Botero, as sold for $ 230,500. The estimate for "The society lady"was for $ 35,000 - 45,000. What makes it so much more valuable then expected? Or is it a mistake? Phil Cory

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