November 20, 2008 / 4:40 PM / 9 years ago

Argentine art stands out in lackluster Latam sale

NEW YORK (Reuters Life!) - Argentine art drew record prices at Christie's auction house to become the standout in an otherwise lackluster Latin American art sale.

Mexican sculptor Francisco Zuniga's "Grupo Frente al Mar," or "Seaside Group", which fetched $1.2 million, was the highest selling work at the evening auction which totaled $10.7 million.

But the biggest buzz and bidding was for Argentine art.

"Argentina is starting to come a long way, achieving recognition elsewhere," said Virgilio Garza, Christie's chief Latin American specialist.

"A lot of these figures are being rediscovered and revisited by art history," he added.

Customarily, Argentine art prices lag behind work produced by at least half a dozen Latin American countries, including artists from its tinier neighbors Chile and Uruguay.

Emilio Pettoruti's 1934 Cubist portrayal of a guitarist, "El Cantante" or "The Singer," fetched $782,000, the most ever paid for Argentine art.

Tango musicians are a staple of Pettoruti's work, according to Christie's. Pettoruti uses outlines, color gradation and geometric shapes in "El Cantante" to produce an oscillatory pattern between the background and the guitarist.

A spokeswoman for Christie's said a sign of interest in Cubism is the climbing prices for the work of Juan Gris, who is credited as a major influence on Pettoruti.

Earlier this month, Christie's sold Gris' 1915 still life "Livre, pipe et verres" for $20.8 million, beating its high estimate and setting a new record for the artist.

The sale of the 1969 pop-influenced work "Billiken" for $422,000 at the auction was a record price for Argentine artist Jorge de la Vega.

Although Wednesday's sale totaled more than $10 million, it was a drop from the $26.6 million total from the Latin American evening art sale last spring.

"It's no surprise that there is economic turmoil going on," said Garza, adding that people are being more careful.

"There is a desire to buy but its just that when you start getting close to the seven figures then it becomes more difficult in this current moment," he added.

In May, Christie's set a world auction record for Latin American art with its $7.2 million sale of Mexican artist Rufino Tamayo's "Trovador" or "Troubador."

Editing by Patricia Reaney

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