Latin American art has for decades had a strong collector base, but its growth in the past few years can be attributed to the rise in global collecting and reevaluation of the market’s traditional collecting categories. A crucial shift in the practices of auction houses, which have begun incorporating valuable works by Latin American artists into the main evening sales of modern and contemporary art, has brought new audiences—and buyers—to these works. In 2018, Christie’s sale of the Peggy and David Rockefeller Collection saw Mexican muralist Diego Rivera’s The Rivals (1931) fetch $9.76 million, besting a presale high estimate of $7 million. (The highest price ever paid for a Rivera came two years earlier when Argentine financier Eduardo F. Costantini bought the 1928 Baile en Tehuantepec for $15.7 million in a private transaction through Phillips.)
Rivera and Frida Kahlo, whose auction record stands at $8 million, from when her 1939 painting Two Nudes in the Forest (The Earth Itself) sold in 2016 at Christie’s, may be among the most recognizable names, but others are also now getting their due on the market. In recent seasons, new benchmarks have been set for 20th-century Latin American artists, including Wifredo Lam (his 1943 painting OMI OBINI sold at Sotheby’s in June 2020 for $9.6 million) and Joaquín Torres-García (his 1931 painting Construcción en blanco set a new record of $3.4 million in a Sotheby’s sale in May 2019). Female Latin American Surrealists, like Remedios Varo, Leonora Carrington, and Leonor Fini, whose achievements were long underrecognized, have also seen renewed interest, and higher prices.
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But, it’s not just Latin American modernists who are seeing high numbers. Old Masters from the region are also in the mix. Virgilio Garza, Christie’s head of Latin American Art, says that segment has been buoyed by institutional surveys at prominent institutions like the traveling “Painted in Mexico, 1700-90: Pinxit Mexici,” which opened at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art in 2017 as part of the Getty Foundation’s Pacific Standard Time: LA/LA. Works made between the 15th and 18th centuries, also known as Viceregal art, while the region was colonized by Spain, are far exceeding estimates at auction as scholarship around this period of art history expands. In July 2020, Luis de Riaño’s 17th-century painting, Saint Michael Archangel, achieved a record price in the category, selling for of $495,000, more than eight times its $60,000 presale high estimate.
Names to Know:
Daniel and Estrellita Brodsky
Patricia Phelps de Cisneros and Gustavo A. Cisneros
Caracas, Venezuela; New York; Madrid
Isabel and Agustín Coppel
Eduardo F. Costantini
Tiqui Atencio Demirdjian and Ago Demirdjian
Roberta and Richard Huber
José María Lafuente
Eugenio López Alonso
Mexico City and Los Angeles
Jorge and Darlene Pérez
Cecilia and Ernesto Poma
Guillermo Penso and Sofía Mariscal
Betty and Isaac Rudman