Cuban voodoo-variant art tops Latin American sale

Fri May 28, 2010 12:20pm EDT
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By Walker Simon

NEW YORK (Reuters Life!) - A painting blending surrealism and Cuban-like voodoo led Sotheby's Latin American art sale, setting a world auction record for the artist, Cuban Wifredo Lam.

The Thursday night sale drew $12.2 million, below the $13.8 million minimum pre-sale estimate. It also failed to match Sotheby's $14.6 million Latin American auction last fall.

Auction officials downplayed the lackluster showing, and they highlighted the genres drawing top dollar bids.

"The big trend that I saw that the surrealist works did very well, the other one was abstract art," said Sotheby's Latin American art chief Carmen Melian.

At $1.42 million, Lam's 1945 "Sur Les Traces (Transformation)" topped the sale. It was painted after his return home from Paris, where he belonged to the surrealist group led by Andre Breton.

"This work combines European elements of surrealism and of santeria," said Melian.

Like Haiti's voodoo, santeria mixes Roman Catholicism and West African religious traditions. Lam's grandmother was a santeria priestess, she added.

Horsetails, horns and flames evoke santeria in a dreamlike setting where fluid black strokes trace silhouettes of human extremities like eyes and fingers.   Continued...

<p>A 1951 untitled work by Chilean surrealist Matta is seen in this undated handout photo. REUTERS/Sotheby's/Handout</p>