The Rise and Rise of Latin American Art

SLIDESHOW: Some top artworks by Latin American masters.

Thanks to a more global outlook by institutions, curators and galleries, Latin American art is taking its turn in the spotlight.

This month Christie’s auction house will hold what could be its largest ever Latin American art sale, with highlights ranging from the full-bodied sculptures of Fernando Botero to a vibrant trio of guitar players by Rufino Tamayo.

Over 250 lots will be sold via a live auction on 24-25 May and an online one between 19-31 May. If it raises the upper end of its US$22-31 million estimate it will be its most lucrative sale of Latin American art on record.

True, US$30 million is small fry compared to recent contemporary and post-war art auctions that have touched nearly a billion dollars in recent years. But experts say that Latin American art is about to take its turn in the spotlight.

“I’ve seen the market change over the last 10 years,” says Virgilio Garza, head of Latin American art at Christie’s. “It wasn’t that long ago these artists were completely unknown and now some of them are household names.”

Over the next few years, Garza believes this will continue. “I expect we will use the term ‘Latin American art’ less, and integrate these artists into the discourse of 20th and 21st century art.”

The reasons for the buzz are two-fold. First, the genre is undervalued. “Buyers see Latin American art as great value. At every auction we see a lot of new buyers, not only to the category but to Christie’s itself, because Latin American art is a great point of entry. While contemporary and post-war prices have spiked across the board, in our category you’re able to find great works of art priced between US$10,000 and US$2 million,” explains Garza. He adds that prices haven’t jumped because collectors don’t tend to be quick-flippers, often holding onto important works for decades. Major collectors of the genre include Estrellita Brodsky, Patricia Phelps de Cisneros and Eugenio Lopez.

Also, over the last few years art institutions and galleries and curators, particularly American ones, have been taking a more global approach. The Metropolitan Museum of Art has started to specialise in colonial Hispanic art while Los Angeles County Museum of Art has built up a stellar collection of Mexican and Hispanic works. Recently the Pérez Art Museum in Miami dedicated most of its top floor to Argentinian kinetic artist Julio Le Parc. Across the Pacific, the Royal Academy of Art showed an exhibition of modern South American art, while the Tate Modern has devoted itself to a better representation of Latin American art over the last decade, highlighting artists such as Guillermo Kuitca, Doris Salcedo and Carlos Garaicoa, as well as a number of works by emerging artists including Jorge Macchi, Sebastian Diaz Morales and Santiago Sierra.

In Asia-Pacific, the interest in Latin American art is more nascent. Adriana Alvarez-Nichol is a former banker who set up the Puerta Roja Gallery in Hong Kong’s arty Sai Ying Pun neighbourhood in 2010. “When I started out people asked if there is a market for Latin American art in Asia? My answer was there’s never a market until someone decides to create it.”

At Puerta Roja you will see art by stars including Leonora Carrington, Siqueiros, Luis Tomasello and Antonio Asis and this month, until 25 May, a solo exhibition dedicated to Franco-Venezuelan artist Carlos Cruz-Diez, considered the godfather of the optical and kinetic art movement. Puerta Roja was the first to specialise in Hispanic art in the city, and Alvarez-Nichol says her arrival was timely.

In her opinion, the growing interest in the genre is partly down to a new seam of buyers, from China, Hong Kong and elsewhere in Asia. “There is increasing diversification in the collector base acquiring the works. Whereas before it was mainly domestic collectors, now Asians are also buying.”

The market’s other draw, Alvarez-Nichol says, is that it is completely pioneering. Latin America boasts its own seam of avant-garde movements, including constructivism, geometric abstraction and kinetic art that are rarely found elsewhere. “The flight by collectors to quality and rediscovery of 20th century artists, particularly focusing on abstraction and kinetic and op art, is very much driving this trend,” she explains.

“Beyond formal and technical explorations of colour and movement, at the heart of the artists’ discourse were their progressive ideals, and egalitarian and hopeful perspectives about the future,” Alvarez-Nichol wrote in a recent column. “Such ideals had been brewing deeply in South America since the 1930s. Uninterrupted by the horrors of the world wars, diverse currents of geometric abstraction, developed particularly in Argentina and Venezuela, would become the forefront of international trends. Fuelled by idealist notions of progress, and inspired by science and mathematics, artists looked to change the world through reason and order. A number of these artists, including Luis Tomasello, Julio Le Parc and Carlos Cruz-Diez, would move to Paris to work alongside other international artists hoping to lead the way towards a better society. They would all become pillars of the MoMA exhibition and key drivers of the movement until the present day.”

Optical and kinetic artists aim to stimulate the eye with vertigo-inducing optical illusions and geometric patterns. The fact that they don’t seem to have a strong political thread and share a common language of optimism means these artists are universally appealing, adds Alvarez-Nichol. “Unconstrained by historical and societal readings, these works can reach a much broader and increasingly international audience. A work by Lee Ufan may resonate as much with a young Mexican viewer when presented at the Museo Tamayo in Mexico City as the work by Franco-Venezuelan op art artist Carlos Cruz-Diez did with the Chinese public during his year-long touring exhibition in China.”

Recommended For You

Related Articles

Christie's

RUFINO TAMAYO

Músicos (also known as Trovadores). Oil on canvas. Painted in 1934.

$2,000,000-3,000,000

CHRISTIE’S IMAGES LTD. 2016

RUFINO TAMAYO

Músicos (also known as Trovadores). Oil on canvas. Painted in 1934.

$2,000,000-3,000,000

CHRISTIE’S IMAGES LTD. 2016

View Less
Christie's

MARIANO RODRÍGUEZ

Guajiro con gallo (also known as Muchacho con gallo)

Oil on canvas.

Painted in 1943.

$500,000-700,000

CHRISTIE’S IMAGES LTD. 2016

MARIANO RODRÍGUEZ

Guajiro con gallo (also known as Muchacho con gallo)

Oil on canvas.

Painted in 1943.

$500,000-700,000

CHRISTIE’S IMAGES LTD. 2016

View Less
Christie's

FRANCISCO ZÚÑIGA

Grupo de cuatro mujeres de pie. Bronze. Executed in 1974.

$1,500,000-2,500,000

CHRISTIE’S IMAGES LTD. 2016

FRANCISCO ZÚÑIGA

Grupo de cuatro mujeres de pie. Bronze. Executed in 1974.

$1,500,000-2,500,000

CHRISTIE’S IMAGES LTD. 2016

View Less
Christie's

FERNANDO BOTERO

Woman with an Umbrella and

Man with a Cane

Bronze. Executed circa 1977.

$1,500,000-2,500,000

CHRISTIE’S IMAGES LTD. 2016

FERNANDO BOTERO

Woman with an Umbrella and

Man with a Cane

Bronze. Executed circa 1977.

$1,500,000-2,500,000

CHRISTIE’S IMAGES LTD. 2016

View Less
Christie's

CARMEN HERRERA

Verticals

Acrylic on canvas.

Painted in Paris in 1952.

$350,000-450,000

CHRISTIE’S IMAGES LTD. 2016

CARMEN HERRERA

Verticals

Acrylic on canvas.

Painted in Paris in 1952.

$350,000-450,000

CHRISTIE’S IMAGES LTD. 2016

View Less
Latin American Art

CARLOS CRUZ-DIEZ

Physichromie 1920

Chromography on aluminium, Paris 2014

© Atelier Cruz-Diez Paris. Courtesy Puerta Roja

CARLOS CRUZ-DIEZ

Physichromie 1920

Chromography on aluminium, Paris 2014

© Atelier Cruz-Diez Paris. Courtesy Puerta Roja

View Less