“Art is a means of expression that must be understood by everybody, everywhere. It grows out of the earth, the textures of our lives, and our experience.” – Rufino Tamayo
Latin American Art has in recent years captured the attention of collectors, critics, and curators alike as artists from the region have played key roles in the major art historical movements of the 20th century.
While many Latin American artists were working in Paris, New York, and London alongside their European and American contemporaries throughout the 20th century, “Latin America itself also served as a rich source of inspiration for European and American artists alike,” says Andrea Zorrilla, Assistant Vice President and Specialist of Latin American Art at Sotheby’s.
A Market on the Rise
“The Latin American art category at Sotheby’s was founded in 1978. The first sale was focused predominantly on Mexican art within the larger Modern Art sales at the time. The category then evolved into dedicated biannual auctions that now include over 200 years of artistic tradition,” says Zorrilla. “In the last few decades, it has evolved from a predominantly regional collecting category to a more expansive, international one.”
This evolution is tied to both growing collector and market insight, fueled by landmark museum exhibitions. “Over the course of the last few years, we have seen important shows organized by prominent international institutions: The Tate London produced one of the first retrospectives on Brazilian Concrete artist Mira Schendel; The Philadelphia Museum of Art recently organized “Paint the Revolution,” perhaps one of the most significant exhibition dedicated to Mexican Modernism in the United States in the last 50 years; to name only a few.”
Collectors themselves have also been promoting the field. Prominent collectors Patricia Phelps de Cisneros and Gustavo A. Cisneros made a major donation to MoMA last year, which included 102 works by Latin American artists.
Pioneering Modern Artists
“Raised in an aristocratic British family, Surrealist artist Leonora Carrington often struggled against the rigid expectations of high society, and was expelled in her youth from two schools for rebellious behavior,” says Zorrilla. “In this mysterious scene, populated with meticulously rendered human hybrid figures and fantastic creatures, a cloaked figure holds a book reading, in reverse writing, ‘Manners and Tone in Good Society.’ This subtle inclusion suggests a satirical tone to the drawing, presenting a surrealist vision of the dark and unstable elements present in all of ‘good society.’”
“Rufino Tamayo was one of the titans of Mexican modernism alongside Diego Rivera. This lovely watercolor by Tamayo, executed during his early years in New York, displays a geometric, linear balance and shimmering soft texture that illustrate the twin influences of pre-Columbian art and European abstraction on his work of this period.”
“Víctor Manuel, a member of the Cuban modernist Vanguardia movement, was influenced by the paintings of Paul Gauguin, which he studied in Paris early in his career. Like Gauguin in his depictions of Tahiti, Manuel uses light, rapid brushstrokes and rich color to capture the heat and stillness of the tropics in his lush portrayals of Cuban villages and landscapes.”
Pioneering Contemporary Artists
“Widely considered as one of the leading artists of the Op-Kinetic movement, Carlos Cruz-Diez’s groundbreaking Physichromie works challenge the traditional form of painting and concepts of color. A product of the combined words ‘physical’ and ‘chromatic,’ the Physichromie is simply defined by Cruz-Diez as meaning a ‘light trap’ that can capture and change color and, more importantly, requires us as viewers to become active participants with the work itself,” notes Zorrilla.
“Joaquín Torres-García was involved in several of the early avant-garde movements that were burgeoning in both the United States and Europe, in the beginning of the 1930s he developed a new approach, known as Universal Constructivism. This 1938 drawing, “Metaphysical Composition,” is an important example of Torres-García’s grid-like compositions – inspired by Incan stonework – made between 1935 and the early 1940s. This work is truly quite special, and should be considered as a collector’s piece not only as a starting point but as a great supplement to any collection.”
Tips for New Collectors
For those interested in collecting modern and contemporary Latin American art, Zorrilla says there’s a rich history to take in, and “it’s a matter of looking at as many artist works as possible to get an understanding of what naturally peaks your interest and are attracted to, this will help drive the direction you want your collection to move towards.”
The category, she adds, provides a great opportunity for someone starting to build a collection. “The price points are varied and accessible; you can find fantastic quality and opportunities.”
Find these works and more in Sotheby’s series of Latin American auctions:
Latin America: Modern Art Evening Sale (May 25)
Latin America: Contemporary Art Evening Sale (May 25)
Latin America: Modern Art Online (ends May 26)
Latin America: Contemporary Art Online (ends May 26)