Latin American Art from Abstraction to Indigenism

Latin American Art from Abstraction to Indigenism

The New York Sales include a diverse array of Latin American works by the region’s leading 20th- and 21st-century artists, including Jesús Rafael Soto, Lygia Clark, Gego, Matta, Diego Rivera and more.
The New York Sales include a diverse array of Latin American works by the region’s leading 20th- and 21st-century artists, including Jesús Rafael Soto, Lygia Clark, Gego, Matta, Diego Rivera and more.

W ithin this season’s New York Sales, Sotheby’s is honored to present an exceptional selection of artworks from across Latin America, including the most important work by Jesús Rafael Soto ever to appear at international auction, a seminal relief by Sergio Camargo, a monumental Dibujo sin papel by Gego, masterworks of Cuban Modernism and more.

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Contemporary Art

Our Contemporary Latin American offerings are led by masterworks from Jesús Rafael Soto and Sergio Camargo in the Contemporary Evening Auction on 18 May and complemented by an impressive range of paintings, sculptures and multimedia works in The Contemporary Day Auction on 19 May.

Sergio Camargo, Sem título (Relief No. 21/52)

Sergio Camargo, Sem título (Relief No. 21/52) (1964). Estimate: $1–1.5 million

A masterpiece of Brazilian Neo-Concretism (and the standing auction record since its last appearance a decade ago), Relief No. 21/52 is an essential testament to Sergio Camargo’s profound achievements in the global history of abstraction. At once static and in constant flux, Relief No. 21/52 offers each viewer an intimate experience of infinity. Here, cascading rivulets of Camargo’s signature toquinhos (cylindrical “little touches” of plaster and wood) shimmer and dance across its crystalline white surface in a joyous rhythm.


Jesús Rafael Soto, Barroco negro

Jesús Rafael Soto, Barroco negro (1961). Estimate: $800,000–1,200,000

The most important work by Jesús Rafael Soto ever to appear at international auction, Barroco negro marks a critical apex in Soto’s artistic and philosophical project: a transferrence of artistic agency from artist to viewer – a total restructuring of the roles of artist and audience. As the viewer’s eyes move across the surface, it enters a constant state of transformation as new forms appear, advance and recede; the work creates an immersive and psychologically profound experience of complete dematerialization.

Gego, Dibujo sin papel

Gego, Dibujo sin papel (1985). Estimate: $400,000–600,000

Exquisite in its painstaking detail and elegant simplicity, Dibujo sin papel (1985) is the largest work from Gego’s renowned series of “Drawings without Paper” ever to appear at international auction. Here, Gego has exactingly woven together an assemblage of found and intervened iron and steel wires and rods in a precarious balance. Dibujo sin papel, with its delicate geometry and expansive scale, offers a powerful testament to Gego’s radically innovative contribution to the history of 20th-century abstraction.


Lygia Clark, Bicho

Lygia Clark, Bicho (1960). Estimate: $500,000–700,000

Brimming with tactile possibilities and unbound by the constricts of stable sculpture, Lygia Clark’s Bicho (Critter) of 1960 is a paragon of the Brazilian artist’s radical abstraction. Comprised of several hinged planes of luminous brushed aluminum, and circular when laid flat, Bicho is intended to be activated by the manipulation of the spectator into a variety of configurations – a playful and challenging interaction whose limits, as the artist once put it, “you don’t know, I don’t know – only the Bicho itself knows.” One of the earliest in a spectacularly experimental series that would come to define Clark’s career, Bicho is a testament to her groundbreaking achievements in participatory artmaking.


Lygia Pape, Livro noite e dia

Lygia Pape, Livro noite e dia (1963–76). Estimate: $250,000–350,000

One of the most radical of Brazil’s Neo-Concrete artists, Lygia Pape experimented with a diverse array of media; in Livro Noite e Dia, she combines mural painting, relief and bookmaking to dazzling effect. Comprised of wall-mounted square constructions, Livro Noite e Dia (The Book of Night and Day) is a subset of a mural consisting of 365 component parts that represent the 365 days of the year, offering a geometric meditation on the passage of time that constantly shifts with the spectator’s perspective.


Jesús Rafael Soto, Naranjita

Jesús Rafael Soto, Vertical naranja (Naranjita) (1969). Estimate: $150,000–200,000

Soto’s mature works initially grasp the viewer’s attention with their mesmerizing optical effects – colors that enter then recede from our space; vibrational textures that cause our eyes to lose focus and disorient. These visceral reactions lead us to the deeper truth that runs through Soto’s work: the duality of the sublime that Soto sought his entire career to make visible, metaphysical and scientific that is on clear display in Naranjita.


Sônia Gomes, Torção

Sônia Gomes, Torção (2005). Estimate: $120,000–180,000

Torção is the largest and most significant example of Sônia Gomes’s celebrated artistic production to appear at international auction. Here, Gomes constructs a complex web of textiles, furniture remnants, driftwood and wire to build a resonant, geometric sculpture. Rooted deeply in Afro-Brazilian traditions of artmaking, its dynamic lines and rhythmic dimensions echo the corporeality of Brazilian dance while also nodding to Gomes’s Neo-Concrete precedessors.


Antônio Bandeira, Movimento

Antônio Bandeira, Movimento (1959). Estimate: $120,000–180,000

In an explosive array of crimson, royal blue and ash gray, Movimento is filled to the brim with dynamic and electric energy. Executed the height of the artist’s career, its richly textured surface is replete with psychological intensity and motion. In Bandeira’s words, his works are “a metamorphosis, transfiguration, it is a transposition of beings, objects, things, moments, tastes, smells, that I live through in the present, the past and the future.”


Beatriz Gonzalez, Meditación

Beatriz González, Sueño dorado (Meditación) (1968). Estimate: $120,000–180,000

From the beginning of her career in the early 1960s in Bogotá, Beatriz Gonzalez’s interest in mass culture resulted in a reading of her work as pop art. A characterization with which she never agreed, Gonzalez described the origin of her work in more local manner. “I painted the joy of underdevelopment,” she once said in an interview, referring to the colors and motifs in her paintings, scenes of everyday, provincial life, like the images of the Sacred Heart present in every house. Heroes of Colombian history, portraits of wealthy families, episodes of social pages, and popular prints appear repeatedly – as do the presence of political and violent figures, presidents, drug traffickers and all kinds of famous characters of national life.


Fernando Botero, Adam and Eve

Fernando Botero, Adam and Eve (1977). Estimate: $700,000–900,000

A masterful play of volumes on a human scale, Botero’s Adam and Eve are marked by the sensual patina, geometric harmony and sardonic wit for which his sculpture is celebrated around the world. Throughout his extensive oeuvre, Botero has wrestled with the most iconic images of the Western canon – of which Adam and Eve is perhaps the best known. Where many other artists have focused on the fall of Eve and the chaos that ensued, Botero offers a glimpse here of marital bliss: the couple gazes blithely forward as Eve holds the dangerous fruit aloft in her palm, blissfully unaware of what will befall them. Imbued with characteristic Boterian humor, this work is an emblematic example of the artist’s renowned sculptural practice.


Guillermo Kuitca, El mar dulce

Guillermo Kuitca, El mar dulce (1989). Estimate: $150,000–200,000

El mar dulce is emblematic of Guillermo Kuitca’s seminal production in its emotionally-charged ambiguity. At once inextricable from and in rejection of the political climate of Buenos Aires in the 1980s, this work speaks to the invasion of private life by State violence. The theatrical downward rake of the picture plane places the spectator as a voyeur into the aftermath of an act of violence, unfolding in the most intimate context possible – the bedroom.


Fernando Botero, Dancing Couple

Fernando Botero, Dancing Couple (2006). Estimate: $700,000–900,000

Edward Sullivan writes: “There is great power in the contained emotion of Botero’s figures. There is also a tremendous humor and playfulness in his work. We are never supposed to be too serious before a Botero, be it a painting, a sculpture, or a drawing. Yet this is an art of great humanity. On the one hand, his sculpture is silent and laconic, while on the other it expresses an exuberant sensuality and earthiness, a sheer reveling in existence.”

Modern Art

The suite of exceptional 20th-century Latin American art offered in The Modern Day Auction on 17 May includes work by titans of modernism and various folk art movements – from Diego Rivera and Rufino Tamayo to Miguel Covarrubias and Mariano Rodriguez.

Diego Rivera, Luna sobre el mercado

Diego Rivera, Luna sobre el mercado (1929). Estimate: $600,000–800,000

Luna sobre el mercado is a seminal early painting in Rivera’s oeuvre, executed shortly after his return to Mexico following over a decade of study and travel in France and Italy. Here, Rivera offers an idyllic image of Tehuanas, Indigenous women from Mexico’s isthmus of Tehuantepec, who became an essential national symbol in the post-revolutionary period. He deploys a modernist visual language to depict these women as cultural archetypes, emphasizing the vibrance of their skirts, their huipiles with bright geometric bands, their carefully braided hair and the architectural petticoats of their skirts.


Miguel Covarrubias, Una tarde en Xochimilco

Miguel Covarrubias, Una tarde en Xochimilco (circa 1937). Estimate: $70,000–90,000

A true Renaissance man, Mexican artist Miguel Covarrubias is today celebrated as a leading painter, prolific illustrator and pioneering ethnologist of the 20th century. Una tarde en Xochimilco, executed with the exceptionally fine draughtsmanship and sly cultural critique for which he is renowned, depicts an array of local Mexico City characters riding on one of the city’s iconic trajineras through its ancient Xochimilco canals.


José Agustín Arrieta, La familia mexicana (La pensativa)

Agustín Arrieta, La familia mexicana (La pensativa or Tipos populares) (1851). Estimate: $70,000–90,000

José Agustín Arrieta was the foremost Mexican 19th-century exponent of the costumbrista school – a proto-anthropological genre that chronicled local everyday life and examined the cultural tropes of the later colonial period. La familia mexicana (La pensativa) is one of the most accomplished and vibrant costumbrista works by the artist to become available in the international market in over a decade. La familia mexicana is especially notable for its technical brilliance and thematic complexity; several key “characters” of Mexican popular culture here appear in lively dialogue, caught mid-sentence in a humorous moment of family conflict.


Rufino Tamayo, Mujer en un interior

Rufino Tamayo, Mujer en un interior (1970). Estimate: $400,000–600,000

Rendered in rich violet, vivid crimson and incandescent chartreuse, Tamayo’s Mujer en un interior evidences the artist’s mastery of color and texture. Craggly mountains of sand and energetic gestural scratches give way to open fields of color in this triumphant work. A resolute champion of the figure, Tamayo remained a steadfast advocate of recognizable subject matter. While maintaining a unique pre-Columbian aesthetic, Tamayo synthesized European notions of abstraction through technical and conceptual experimentation.


Matta, Membranes de l’espace

Matta, Membranes de l’espace (Agua safiro) (1942). Estimate: $300,000–400,000

Painted at a new apex in Matta’s critical and commercial popularity between 1940–44 in New York, Membranes de l’espace (Agua safiro) is a paragon of this fertile period in the artist’s production. Transfixed by the newly translated work of Carl Jung and by major breakthroughs in psychoanalysis catalyzed by the war, Mata strove to express the tensions of this world-shattering moment in works like this. Here, fine shadowy glazes of rich black and soft emerald are fractured by bright geometric planes, evoking a primordial soup in generative chaos. Matta presents not only an internal landscape but internal galaxies; cataclysmic and generative forces entwined in a cosmic psyche.


Mario Carreño, Allegory of a Cuban Landscape

Mario Carreño, Allegory of a Cuban Landscape (1943). Estimate: $150,000–200,000

Allegory of a Cuban Landscape is a rare and dynamic masterwork from a landmark series of paintings in Duco executed following a visit from Mexican muralist David Alfaro Siqueiros to Carreño’s Havana home in 1943. Carreño, like Siqueiros, prized the medium for the unparalleled richness and glossiness it offered; for the immediacy and vibrance it revealed when layered – but unlike him only exploited it for a brief and critical period. Gleaming with bright turquoise and magenta waves that cascade across the lush coast of the island, carefully guarded by glimmering orisha (deity) figures, Alleogry of a Cuban Landscape is a powerful celebration of prismatic Antillean light and color.


Mariano Rodríguez, Los Niños del Pozo

Mariano Rodríguez, Los niños del pozo (1939). Estimate: $100,000–150,000

Los Niños del Pozo by Cuban vanguard artist Mariano Rodriguez offers a symbolic narrative of pan-Latin American unity: the young continent personified by children who play in a bright, vast land, in which vestiges of modern life (concrete, geometric buildings) are offset by the rustic and the old-fashioned (the well). In this utopian scene, all ethnicities and nations are interconnected at the most vital level – their cooperation joyfully displayed as they share the same source of sustenance. An essential image in his oeuvre, Los Niños del Pozo has remained in the same prestigious private collection for decades.


Cundo Bermúdez, Retrato de María Luisa Gómez Mena

Cundo Bermúdez, Retrato de María Luisa Gómez Mena (1943). Estimate: $70,000–90,000

A key member of the Cuban Vanguardia, Cundo Bermúdez engaged in a project of nation- and identity-building in his painting of the period to which this portrait of María Luisa Gómez Mena, Carreño’s first wife, belongs. Rejecting colonialist tropes and European themes that had dominated Cuban art of previous centuries, the Vanguardia asserted the value of specifically Cuban modes of expression, depicting native culture, flora and fauna in a thoroughly modern pictorial vocabulary throughout the 1930s–40s. Here, the rich spread of colors offer a visual feast, encircling the famous Cuban beauty in an exuberant array of geometric patterns and jewel tones.


Antonio Berni, La fogata de San Juan

Antonio Berni, La fogata de San Juan (1943). Estimate: $150,000–200,000

One of Argentina’s foremost painters of the 20th century, Berni was also perhaps its most politically and socially engaged. In La fogata de San Juan, Berni depicts the celebration of the feast of St. John the Baptist in a small town at the outskirts of Buenos Aires. In a composition whose rhythmic structure and humanistic detail evoke Dutch group portraiture, Berni presents a monumental tribute to the impoverished townsfolk. The social realism of these early works bears a pathos that sets it apart from the nationalistic social realism of Europe and Mexico; here, Berni focuses on individual characters and the joy and pain of their daily lives.


Oswaldo Guayasamín, Indígenas

Oswaldo Guayasamín, Indígenas (1941). Estimate: $80,000–120,000

Painted in 1941 by Ecuador’s foremost artist of the 20th century, Indígenas offers a rigorously formalist approach to Indigenism. A pan-Latin American intellectual movement that denounced the exploitation of the continents’ Indigenous peoples throughout the 1920s–30s, Indigenism was a key cultural force for anti-colonial nation building during this period. Here, Guayasamin applies the formal conventions of European modernism, from heavy impasto to flattened pictorial space, to continue its project of lionizing Indigenous peoples, rendering the figures here in grand scale.

The New York Sales

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