Art fairs

Low prices promoted contemporary art at Arte Americas

Latin American collectors moved outside traditional comfort zones


Arte Americas (27-30 March), the world’s largest Latin American art fair, opened at the end of March to decreased attendance but healthy sales—a testament to the value many collectors see in this largely overlooked market. Amid the economic gloom, buyers followed the trend toward contemporary art seen at recent fairs, often bypassing works by modern masters to scoop up high-quality, lower-priced pieces made during the past few years.

Fifty dealers from Brazil, Venezuela, Colombia, the Dominican Republic, Argentina, Panama, Mexico, Peru and the United States travelled to the Miami Beach Convention Center to test the waters with wares that rarely went above $15,000.

According to Emilio Calleja, vice president of Arte Americas, the fair was trying to accommodate a shift in taste among collectors. “Before, Latin American art was very traditional,” he said. “If you were Cuban you bought Cuban traditional art. Now there is much more interest in contemporary art and video and photography.”

This shift was especially apparent at stands offering both recent and older works. By the end of the first night, Henrique Faria Fine Art had sold a $6,000-piece by Jesus “Bubu” Negron, a young Puerto Rican artist; two video works by Tony Cruz for $3,500 apiece; and six miniature oil barrels by Alessandro Balteo Yazbeck that were priced at the market value of a barrel of oil on the day of the purchase ($55 at the opening, $51 the next day). But two exquisite ink drawings from the 1970s by León Ferrari, priced at $55,000 and $25,000, and a pair of 1960s monotypes by Mira Schendel for $15,000 each had attracted no interest—despite these artists being the subject of a show opening just days after the fair at MoMA in New York.

Jacob Karpio Gallery and Dean Project, which shared a booth, also had success with contemporary pieces. They sold a ceramic crown sculpture by Reinaldo Sanguino for about $10,000, two paintings by Federico Junca Acebedo for $5,000 each, and “several” $1,200 photographs by Beatriz Salazar of a Venezuelan newspaper held in vice grips.

The most successful gallery at the fair was also the most expensive—Cernuda Arte, which had sold 11 works by the end of the second night, including René Portocarrero’s Brujo, 1945, for $130,000. Ramón Cernuda said he had given the American buyer a $5,000 discount.

Originally appeared in The Art Newspaper as 'Low prices promoted contemporary art'