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The most expensive Latin American art lot that exceeded its estimates this Spring was Costa Rican/Mexican scupltor Francisco Zuniga’s Grupo de cuatro mujeres de pie which made more than$3.1m at Christie’s. Described as Zuniga’s successor to the Rodin work, Burghers of Calais, and the apex of Zuniga’s long international career. Indeed, the bronze statue representing four inflection points in the lives of women was used on the cover of Zuniga’s catalogue raisonné.
That work was one of the bright spots in the week of Latin American sales which struggled on several fronts. The overall sell-through rates were below 60%; the combined total for all three houses was $42m against an aggregate low estimate of $49m. Without the buyer’s premium, the hammer ratio of $34.3m against that $49.2m aggregate low estimate was a demoralizing .69.
Put another way, the Latin American art work only realized two-thirds of its low estimate market price. Of the 218 lots that did sell, only 41 or less than 20% made prices above the high estimate like the Zuniga pictured above. Nearly half the lots sold, 91, were sold at prices below the low estimate disappointing consignors. A greater number, 146, failed to sell.
Those numbers don’t give us a true sense of the Latin American market. As the sales stats show, the top ten lots accounted for half of the hammer total and 41% of premium total.
As the chart of the top 35 lots by value shows, the high end of the market is more evenly balanced with less than a third of the top lots selling below the low estimate. Half of the top 35 lots were sold within the estimate range. A final 20% were bid past the high estimates as buyers crowded toward those works.
A third of those top 35 lots were by Fernando Botero, the dominant figure in this collecting category. The top lot got a strong price for Rufino Tamayo. We see many of the familiar names in this category—Diego Rivera, Claudio Bravo, Jesus Rafael Soto, Joaquin Torres-Garcia and Wifredo Lam—among the top works but few that were considered exceptionally strong or rare to the market. Further down this list, we see three early lots (works chosen for their prospects to out-perform) that ran ahead of the estimate range confirming how picky this market is right now.
Switching to relative gainers, the list of top 39 works that out-performed estimates is dominated by low-value lots punctuated twice by a higher value Botero and the Zuniga discussed above. There were two more Boteros, a Carmen Herrera, Tomas Sanchez, Jesus Rafael Soto and an Augstin Cardenas.
The overall market may be in retreat this Spring but that doesn’t mean individual artists are equally effected. Here’s the market leader, Botero, lot-by-lot. There were 26 Boteros across the three houses and their four sales. Three of those failed to find buyers giving the artist a sell-through rate in the high 80s percentage wise. An additional five lots were sold at compromise prices below the low estimate. More than half of the lots were priced correctly. A small portion of 15% of the lots attracted aggressive bidding that drove the prizes above the high estimate.
The story with Diego Rivera is a little weaker but still stronger than the overall market for Latin artists. The one significant Rivera sold just above the low estimate. Another, cheaper work was sold lower than the consignor’s minimum position but close enough to get a transaction done. Of the 10 lots, 6 sold at or above the estimate range; two failed and two were sold below estimates. The mix of lots doesn’t make this much of a measure of the Rivera market but these results remain stronger than the overall market.
Ecuadoran artist Oswaldo Guayasamin, while not a major artist, had a good showing in the five-figure estimate range with all of the four works sold, half above the high estimate.
Jesus Rafael Soto’s work has been a staple of art fairs recently. But the auction market hasn’t caught up with the expectations of dealers. Although the the six Sotos sold well with only one failing, the bulk of the works reset consignors’ benchmarks. That doesn’t mean there weren’t works bidders were willing to push beyond the estimates. A 1974 work that epitomized some of Soto’s most important themes sold near the high estimate. Another, smaller work from the next year offered at Sotheby’s is the one work that bidders weren’t willing to bow out from easily.
The final artist with a significant number of lots is the Uruguayan master, Joaquin Torres-Garcia, summed up the position of the big names in the Latin American market. Three of five had solid sales. The rest of the