NEW YORK – On Wednesday, 5 April 1978, Sotheby Parke Bernet inaugurated its first-ever sale of Mexican Modern Art – 165 lots by the great Mexican masters Rufino Tamayo, Diego Rivera, David Alfaro Siquieros and Francisco Toledo, amongst others. By 1982, the sale evolved into the Latin American Art sale, eventually representing 200 years of the artistic history from the region by over 120 artists.
These survey-like sales quickly revealed that Latin American art is not simply isolated and specific to the regional countries – the production of Latin American art is global and vast, drawing upon a complex network of inspirations. Leonora Carrington, the British-born Surrealist and lover of Max Ernst, produced work in France, Spain and New York before settling in Mexico; the great Mexican modernist Rufino Tamayo divided his time between Paris, New York and Mexico City; Diego Rivera and Frida Kahlo were inspired by New York City, San Francisco and Detroit; German-born Wolfgang Paalen marveled at the natural wonders of the American Pacific Northwest; Venezuelans Jesús Rafael Soto and Carlos Cruz-Diez permanently settled in Paris while Argentine Lucio Fontana established himself in Italy; the list goes on.
APRIL 1978, MODERN MEXICAN PAINTINGS AUCTION CATALOGUE COVER.
The global theatre of Latin American Art is also continuously promoted by museums, curators, gallerists and collectors alike, with some of the most significant exhibitions opening just within the last few months: Joaquín Torres-García at the Museum of Modern Art, New York; the Wifredo Lam at the Centre Pompidou, Paris; Doris Salcedo at the Guggenheim Museum, New York; Mathias Goeritz at Madrid’s Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofia.
This November 2015, the Sotheby’s Latin American art department will again advance the critical and comprehensive survey with two very distinct sales each accompanied by their own catalogues, Latin America: Modern Art and Latin American: Contemporary Art.
Here are two highlights from these inaugural sale categories:
RUFINO TAMAYO, MUJER VOLUPTUOSA (STILL LIFE WITH ANTHURIUM), 1953. ESTIMATE: $350,000–450,000.
Rufino Tamayo stands as one of the 20th Century’s most prolific and powerful painters. “Like Pablo Picasso – at once the quintessential modernist and anti-modernist – [Tamayo] believed that figurative art was a powerful alternative to abstraction […] he was committed to painting the human image when painting was supposedly dead.”1 From the on-set of his artistic career, Mexican-born artist was quickly identified both at home and abroad as the alternative to the prevailing, politically-influenced Mexican Muralist art of the time. Once in the collection of Academy Award winning actor Gary Cooper, Mujer Voluptuosa was last seen by the public when it was sold in the inaugural Sotheby Parke Bernet Modern Mexican Paintings, Drawings, Sculpture, and Prints sale in April 1978. One of Tamayo’s most daring compositions, this 1953 painting exudes the artist’s signature aesthetic style: a bursting explosion and exploration of color, a technical mastery of using new materials and mediums, and an elegant display of the human relationship and interaction with the natural world.
1Tamayo: A Modern Icon Reinterpreted (exhibition catalogue). p. 27, Diana C. Du Pont, Curator of Modern & Contemporary Art, Santa Barbara Museum of Art,
ALEJANDRO OTERO, COLORITMO 57, 1960-71. ESTIMATE: 400,000–600,000.
A pioneer of the geometric abstract movement in Latin America, Venezuelan-born Alejandro Otero began producing his iconic Coloritmos in 1955 upon his return to Caracas from Paris. Otero only created 75 of these panels in total, with his first Coloritmo finding itself in the permanent collection of New York’s Museum of Modern Art. “This series forms a complete record of one of the most audacious journeys ever made in modern art into the realm of pure colour. “2 These color-rhythms are equally daring as they are challenging. Here, in Coloritmo 57, reduced fragments of color slide and jump rhythmically across black lines mimicking a musical score sheet, their seeming movements so precise and determined they appear wonderfully random and improvised. Alejandro Otero’s philosophy of color and construction was so pervasive it also influenced the design and architecture at the time which can be seen in the collaborations with the great modern architect Carlos Raúl Villanueva.
2 SIGNALS, Jan-Feb-March 1966, p. 11