Chile, Mexico artists lead Latin American art sale in New York

Tue Nov 20, 2012 11:43am EST
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By Walker Simon

NEW YORK (Reuters) - A rare, life-size, anonymous portrait of Aztec emperor Moctezuma II and a ground-breaking surrealist painting by Chilean artist Roberto Matta were among the top-selling works at a Latin American art auction at Sotheby's.

The Monday evening sale also set records, at prices above $1 million each, for Mexican landscape artist Gerardo Murillo, Chilean Claudio Bravo and pioneering Venezuelan kinetic sculptor Jesus Rafael Soto.

"This evening sale demonstrates the demand for Latin American art across all periods and mediums," said Axel Stein, director of Latin American art at Sotheby's.

The $19.3 million in art sold included works drawn from four centuries.

"Portrait of Moctezuma II," which was painted in the late 17th century sold for $1.65 million, a record for Latin American colonial art, Sotheby's said. The only other colonial work of the same scale and subject is in a museum in Italy, Stein said.

Moctezuma II was an Aztec chieftain killed by Spanish conquistadors. The portrait shows him as melancholy, his head downcast. But Sotheby's said X-ray images reveal it originally depicted him with his head erect, with a more assured expression, that was later modified.

Matta's 1943 "Nada" (Nothingness) fetched $1.82 million. The work includes plant-like forms that hurl outward with their stems ringed by sloping rays. A butterfly-like shape ejects multicolored beams.

"Matta opened a whole new world. He was as interested in what was going on inside matter as he was in cosmic realities," said Stein. "No surrealist had ever gone there because surrealism had been about how the mind works and what happens in dreams."   Continued...

People look at the "Madre e Hijos" (Mother and Children) by Mexican master Diego Rivera during a preview of Latin American art at Christie's Auction house in New York November 19, 2012. The 1926 painting, expected to fetch $800,000, depicts a barefoot boy standing next to his sister, who is ensconced in their mother's lap. The children show a gravitas beyond their years. REUTERS/Brendan McDermid