NEW YORK (Reuters) - A towering Fernando Botero sculpture and a painting by Mexican master Rufino Tamayo lead Latin American art auctions this week, which could benefit from strong demand seen in earlier art sales in New York.
Botero's bronze "Dancers," which was cast in 2007 and is 10 feet 5 inches tall, could sell for as much as $2 million when it goes under the hammer at Christie's.
If it reaches its top estimate it will exceed the $1.6 million auction record for a Botero sculpture, said Virglio Garza, Christie's Latin American art chief.
"It could be one of his tallest sculptures ever to come to auction," he said. "It's unusual because the dancers are of equal proportion. Normally Botero shows one dancer as larger."
As an example, he pointed to Botero's 1982 painting "Dancing Couple," which is expected to sell for up to $1 million at the auction. It shows a bulky black-haired man leading a much smaller blonde.
Christie's hopes to sell $18 million to $25 million in Latin American art during the two-day sale on Tuesday and Wednesday.
"There's a certain energy which persists from the contemporary art sales last week; we could have a tailwind," Garza said. "That could be one of the keys to our success."
Collectively, Christie's and Sotheby's sold more than $600 million of postwar and contemporary art last week, breaking auction records for over a dozen artists in a sign financial turmoil has not dulled the appetite of deep-pocketed collectors.
On Wednesday and Thursday, Sotheby's estimates its sale of Latin American art could go as high as $19.2 million to $26.2 million.
"What is outstanding about the sale is the retrospective quality of the work of the great Mexican master Rufino Tamayo, represented from 1928 to the 1970s," said Carmen Melian, Sotheby's Latin American art chief.
The sale's top lot is Tamayo's 1950 "Watermelon Slices."
Valued at up to $2 million, the oil on canvas shows watermelon wedges precariously balanced on a brown stand, set against a background of swirling shades of red and pumpkin.
The work, which is being sold by The Museum of Modern Art for its acquisition fund, held a personal significance for Tamayo, Sotheby's said. As a boy, he helped his aunt sell watermelons at a Mexico City market stand.
Tamayo, who died in 1991, is widely regarded as a monumental figure of Mexican 20th century art, along with Diego Rivera, Jose Clemente Orozco and David Siqueiros.
Sotheby's is selling seven other Tamayos tracing his artistic development from surrealist roots in the 1928 "Frutero y Dominio," to the 1966 "Tres Figuras," valued up to $950,000.
"Tamayo was a master colorist," said Melian. "To make colors sing, he has unexpected combinations like the aquamarine, pink and purple in 'Tres Figuras'."
Reporting by Walker Simon; editing by Patricia Reaney