In the last few days of Sotheby’s recently launched Impressionist and Modern Day sale which opened last week, saw unexpected stars gather a swarm of bids bringing new high figures. With two days still left in the sale, Dominican surrealist painter, Ivan Tovar’s large-scale canvas La Menace from 1974 has drawn a total of 25 bids reaching a current marker of $120,000 at four times its low estimate of $30,000 and surpassing the artist’s current auction record of $87,500 previously achieved in a Sotheby’s modern art evening sale in May 2019 with a similar painting titled La Gorge du Refus from the same year. Driving up the value of the work its direct transfer from the artist to the late Harriet Griffin Whitelaw, a prominent art dealer specializing in 19th and 20th century art with an endowment named for her at New York University’s Institute of Fine Arts.
A painter and printmaker, Tovar is known for his assemblage works, graphic style and as a neo-surrealist. A native of San Francisco de Macoris, Dominican Republic, he studied at the National School of Santo Domingo. In 1963, he began a formative portion of his artistic career in Paris where he remained for two decades. A subject of Henri Cartier Bresson’s photography and a member of the artistic vanguard in postwar Europe, by 1968, Tovar had been the subject of numerous solo exhibitions in the region.
The painting on offer at Sotheby’s bears Tovar’s signature scheme, sharp anthropomorphic figures reminiscent of the landscapes of seminal surrealists, Yves Tanguy, Salvador Dali and Roberto Matta. Other notable Latin American surrealists such as Herve Telemaque, H.R. Giger, Octavio Ocampo, and Francisco Toledo express the approach to desire and the unconscious seen in Tovar’s work. With an upward rise in recent years, Tovar’s paintings have consistently out performed their estimates on the secondary market in recent seasons, with the artist’s five highest records, all achieved within the last two years, more than doubling their high estimates in each case. La Menace is the first of Tovar’s work’s to reach the six-figure mark in an auction.
Emannuel Di Donna notes that as the market for Surrealism expands on a global scale, lesser known artists of the movement are being now being embraced. “The conception of Surrealism has expanded for collectors from a tight definition of Andre Breton’s group centered in Paris to an embrace of the movement’s inheritors” says Di Donna. He adds “the movement’s emphasis on personal creative generation and its goal of harnessing the power of the unconscious mind place it at the origin of a trajectory defined by individual artistic expression that extends to Abstract Expressionism and beyond.”
As the market continues to correct, boundaries around traditional modern and contemporary collecting categories are opening to artists like Tovar. Recognizing the rising market for Latin American artists, Sotheby’s moved to integrate modern Latin American art into its marquee Impressionist and Modern sales in May 2018. The shift came after a successful year in 2017 of records for Latin American surrealists, including a new auction record set for Cuban Surrealist Wifredo Lam with the sale of A Trois Centimètres de la Terre, (1962) in a Paris Contemporary Art sale that went for a high total of $5.2 million, surpassing its pre-sale estimate of $2.9-4.1 million. In 2018, Mexican modernist Diego Rivera’s The Rivals, consigned from the blockbuster Rockefeller collection became the highest selling work of Latin American Art to come to auction, realizing a price of $9.76 million.
From the institutional side, Latin American art has been a point of recent focus. In 2018, Venezuelan mega-collectors and patrons of Latin American artists, Gustavo and Patricia Cisneros endowed an institute at the Museum of Modern Art in their name dedicated to the scholarly advancement of Latin American Art, a landmark moment for the discipline.