Surrealist, Mexican works poised to lead NY Latin American art auctions

Fri Nov 16, 2012 7:34pm 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 are among the top lots in Latin American art auctions next week in New York.

Art experts hope that record sales of post-war and contemporary art this week will have a spillover effect and fuel demand for Latin American art during three days of sales at Sotheby's and Christie's.

"Just thinking of what just happened, of $1 billion of art sold in three short days in New York City is quite a phenomenon," said Axel Stein, head of Sotheby's Latin American department. "We're very interested in seeing what the result of that will be" for Latin American art.

Sotheby's top-priced lots, at between $1.5 million and $2 million, are Matta's 1943 oil on canvas "Nada" (Nothingness) and Mexican Dr. Atl's "Manana Luminosa" (Luminous Morning), a 10-foot (3-meter-wide) 1942 landscape of a semi-arid plateau dotted by snowcapped volcanoes in the distance.

Another highlight at the sale is expected to be a colonial portrait of Moctezuma II, the Aztec chieftain killed by Spanish conquistadors.

The anonymous painting, "Portrait of Moctezuma II," from the final quarter of the 17th century, is expected to fetch at least $1 million. The only other colonial work of the same scale and subject is in a museum in Italy, said Stein.

Matta's "Nada" shows plant-like forms hurling outwards with their stems ringed by sloping rays. A central butterfly-like shape ejects beams in slices of green, red, turquoise and bright sky blue.

"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...

An undated handout photo shows "Madre e Hijos" (Mother with Children) by the late Mexican painter Diego Rivera, to be auctioned at Christie's on November 20, 2012. Painted in 1926, it depicts a barefoot boy standing next to his sister, who is ensconced in their mother's lap. Christie's estimates it to fetch about $800,000. REUTERS/Christie's Images Limited 2012/Handout