With this month’s modern and contemporary sales reportedly down 45 percent over last May’s figures, expectations for the week’s Latin American sales were moderate at best. But works by Cuban artists turned in solid results at all three auction houses.
The week got off to a moderate start with the Phillips sale on Monday, where the indisputable star among the Cuban works was Carmen Herrera’s Black and Green. The 1975 canvas went for $370,000, edging past its high estimate of $350,000. (All prices include buyer’s premium.)
While not as dramatic a leap as in last November’s sale—which saw the artist’s 1965 Basque roar past its high estimate of $180,000 to $437,000—the figure indicates continued interest in Herrera’s work ahead of her September exhibition at the Whitney Museum of American Art.
Sales of other Cuban artists were well within their presale estimates. Pescados grises, c. 1931, by Amelia Peláez, fetched $212,500 against an estimate of $180,000–$250,000. Manuel Mendive’s Se alimenta mi cabeza, me alimento yo, 2001, brought $43,750 against an estimate of $30,000–$50,000.
One of the sale’s most notable lots, Cabeza (Face of a Woman)—a 1937 duco on wood by Mario Carreño—failed to sell.
The subdued bidding continued at Sotheby’s the next day, with a few notable exceptions. The top lot among Cuban artists was Wifredo Lam’s 1931 canvas Sin título (Eva), which more than doubled its high estimate of $175,000 to fetch $394,000. An untitled acrylic on wood construction, c. 1955, by Sandú Darié also surpassed its estimate, bringing $52,500 against a top estimate of $40,000.
Other lots sold comfortably within their estimates—among them a second Lam canvas, dating from 1965, which was estimated at $200,000–$300,000 and sold for $250,000; and Sala de lecturas origami, a large-scale 2015 watercolor by Los Carpinteros. Estimated at $40,000–$60,000, it sold for $50,000.
Roberto Fabelo’s Pájaro lindo, 2009, fetched $43,750, above its low estimate of $40,000. Domos de fuerza, a large-scale 2014 watercolor by The-Merger, surpassed its high estimate of $30,000 to reach $33,750.
The evening sale at Christie’s brought interesting results for four Lam works on offer. At $600,000–$800,000, the 1964 canvas Le Sabbat (Immagine No. 5) went into the auction carrying the highest estimate, and not surprisingly it hit the highest mark, bringing $785,000.
But that figure was almost matched by the $725,000 brought by De la même racine, a 1961 Lam canvas estimated at a much lower $350,000–$450,000. An early Lam gouache, Figuras en el balcón, 1938, came in squarely within estimate at $341,000, but a second Lam gouache from that year, Desnudo azúl, failed to sell.
The second work by Carmen Herrera in this week’s sales, an untitled acrylic dated c. 1947, surpassed its estimate by close to 50 percent. The work fetched $118,750 against a high estimate of $80,000.
Contempladores de cascadas, 1992, by Tomás Sánchez sold within its estimate at $161,000.
Closing out the schedule, Thursday’s day sale at Christie’s saw a few notable breakthroughs. Manuel Mendive and Roberto Fabelo continued the hot streaks noted last November, with Mendive’s La gallina amarilla, 2010, estimated at $25,000–$35,000, bring $68,750.
At $125,000, Fabelo’s Arte culinario IV, 2015, surpassed its high estimate of $80,000 by more than 50 percent. The sale set a new record for Fabelo at auction, surpassing the $112,500 earned by his 1996 canvas El equilibrista en el pequeño teatro last November.
Ana Mendieta’s Silueta Works in Iowa, a suite of 12 photographs executed in 1976–78, with estate prints dated 1991, shot past its high estimate of $70,000 to reach $118,750.
Mendieta has been the subject of a touring exhibition of her moving-image works that originated last year at the Katherine E. Nash Gallery at the University of Minnesota, Minneapolis, and is currently on view at the NSU Art Museum, Fort Lauderdale. Another exhibition of Mendieta’s moving-image works was presented earlier this year at Galerie Lelong.
A 2014 canvas by geometric abstractionist Salvador Corratgé, estimated at $10,000–$15,000, finished well above that at $25,000. An untitled 2012 work by Juan Roberto Diago, estimated at $12,000–$18,000, brought a substantial $30,000. Results for most other lots were comfortably within estimates.
With two $700,00-plus lots at last night’s Christie’s sale, Wifredo Lam was the clear winner among Cuban artists in this week’s auctions. Across the board, this season’s Latin American sales saw a significant number of lots fail to sell, including works by Cuban artists. But with the final Christie’s sale, the week ended on a relative high note for Cuban art, with relative few lots failing to find buyers, and strong results for Fabelo, Mendive, and Mendieta suggesting a more dynamic market to come.