Sunday, May 30, 2010

Cuban surrealist Lam tops Latin American art sale

Cuban surrealist Lam tops Latin American art sale
Updated at Sat, May 29, 2010 at 12:36 | Source : Reuters

A painting blending surrealism and a Cuban form of voodoo was the top
selling work at Sotheby's Latin American art sale, setting an auction
record for artist Wifredo Lam.

"Sur Les Traces (Transformation)" fetched $1.42 million but the Thursday
night sale, which totaled $12.2 million, fell below the $13.8 million
minimum pre-sale estimate. It also failed to match Sotheby's $14.6
million Latin American auction last fall.

Auction officials downplayed the lackluster showing and highlighted the
genres drawing top dollar bids.

"The big trend that I saw was that the surrealist works did very well,
the other one was abstract art," said Sotheby's Latin American art chief
Carmen Melian.

Lam painted "Sur Les Traces" after he returned to Cuba from Paris, where
he belonged to the surrealist group led by Andre Breton.

"This work combines European elements of surrealism and of santeria,"
said Melian.

Like Haiti's voodoo, santeria mixes Roman Catholicism and West African
religious traditions. Lam's grandmother was a santeria priestess, she added.

Horsetails, horns and flames evoke santeria in a dreamlike setting where
fluid black strokes trace silhouettes of human extremities like eyes and

At $722,500, the second-best seller was "The Ordeal of Orwain," by
Mexican surrealist Leonora Carrington. The 1959 painting portrays a
Druid-like sacrifice of a legendary Welsh noble; a priestess with a
cat-like face stirs a caldron.

A 1951 untitled work by Chilean surrealist Matta was another top seller
at $692,500.

Mexican Diego Rivera's "Portrait of Gladys March" went to a North
American private collector for $662,500. March was an American
journalist who spent six months interviewing Rivera and the ghost writer
of his autobiography.

The sale lot includes her notes and manuscript, which Melian called "a
scholar's paradise," running to hundreds of pages packed in four boxes.

It also included a Rivera letter in which he describes March as a
mischievous girl who grew to be a "pretty young woman."

Rivera's 1953 "Tejedora y los Ninos", or "Weaver and Children," valued
at up to $1.3 million, failed to sell. For more than half a century it
was only known to scholars via a grainy black and white photograph
before resurfacing for sale.

Mexican cultural laws barred the work being taken abroad.

"That strongly affected the price because it really narrowed down the
public (for it) ," said Melian.

The Sotheby's sale followed Christie's two-day Latin American auction,
which sold $20.5 million and set 12 artist auction records. It sale
ranked as its best auction in two years.

Christie's top-seller was the palm-sized 1938 painting "Survivor"
painted by Frida Kahlo, Rivera's wife. It fetched $1.2 million.

Framed as a religious votive offering, it symbolizes her gratitude for
surviving a suicide attempt and features a pre-Hispanic idol, according
to Christie's. Kahlo had separated from Rivera after discovering his
affair with her sister.

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