Contemporary Cuban artists delivered strong results in a week that saw a shift in focus toward current and recent works.
The Latin American sales week kicked off with an afternoon auction at Phillips on Tuesday, May 26. There, Tania Bruguera’s Destierro (Displacement), 1998-2003—a sculptural suit of Cuban mud and nails, resembling a Congolese power figure, which had been worn in a performance in the streets of Havana—assumed pride of place as Lot #1. The work went for $81,250, more than double its low estimate of $40,000. (All prices include buyer’s premium.)
Several other lots in the Phillips sale—notably works by Zilia Sánchez, Bruguera, Kcho, and José Bedia—also hit their estimates, with works by Yoan Capote and Iván Capote surpassing their estimated highs.
At the Sotheby’s sale on Tuesday evening, it was Alexandre Arrechea’s turn in the top spot. Lot #104, Punching Bags Dust (Havana), Dust (Los Angeles), Dust (New York), 2005, vaulted to $118,750, almost triple its high estimate of $40,000.
Just last week, Arrechea was announced as the first Artist of the Year award in the Cuban Art Awards sponsored by the Farber Foundation (sponsors of Cuban Art News), in an event that received global news coverage via AP.
The three Punching Bags works are from a series of eight. “They all related to places I was connected to emotionally: my home in Havana, the gallery building of Art in General in Soho and my studio in Los Angeles,” Arrechea wrote in a statement on the Sotheby’s site. “These pieces represent my permanent fight with memory which eludes me so often. . . On the side of the punching bags, you can see an engraved label with the addresses where the dust [at the bottom] was collected. Should a bottle break, my memories of the place will perhaps be reduced to dust.”
Other modern and contemporary artists also did well in the Sotheby’s sale. A 2005 Los Carpinteros drawing, Papel Reciclable (Recycled Paper), estimated at $30,000–$40,000, reached $87,500, and the group’s 2001 sculpture Escalera (Oven Step) surpassed its high estimate with a winning bid of $40,000.
Havana-born Zilia Sánchez continued her streak of recent successes at auction, reaching $75,000—notably above the high estimate of $60,000—for the first lot in the Sotheby’s sale, an untitled shaped canvas from 1971.
And a sculpture by Agustín Cárdenas sped past its high estimate of $150,000, fetching $212,500.
Other artists in the Sotheby’s sale also surpassed their estimates, including José Bedia and Sandú Darié, whose circa 1950s shaped canvas, estimated at $30,000–$40,000, reached $67,500.
Breathe, a 2013 sculpture by The-Merger, more than doubled its low estimate with a winning bid of $50,000. Works by two other young artists, Arlés del Rio and José Eduardo Yaque, also sold above their high estimates.
Contemporary artists continued their strong showing at the Christie’s auction, held Wednesday night and Thursday afternoon, May 27–28. The slate also included numerous lots by early and mid-20th-century artists—among them Mario Carreño, René Portocarrero, Loló Soldevilla, and Wifredo Lam, whose nine lots all carried estimates of less than $100,000.
Among these artists, two works produced especially notable results. Laura (Mujer en Amarillo), a 1958 canvas by René Portocarrero. estimated at $35,000–$45,000, zoomed to $87,500. Landscape, a 1939 painting by Victor Manuel, nearly doubled its high estimate of $60,000, realizing $112,500.
Among the contemporary artists, Tomás Sánchez was a strong presence with six works. His top lot, the 1995 canvas Oír las aguas, was estimated at $400,000–$600,000, turning in a solid $545,000.
A 2012 oil painting, On the Sea of Cortez, was the top lot of three by Julio Larraz. Estimated at $80,000–$120,000, it breezed to $161,000.
An untitled, black-and-white geometric canvas by Carmen Herrera, painted in 1952, also proved attractive to bidders. Estimated at $60,000–$80,000, it fetched $106,250. Works by Los Carpinteros and Pedro Pablo Oliva also surpassed their high estimates.
Two impressive gains were scored late in the sale. An untitled 2010 work by Manuel Mendive from his Hacha de doble filo series, estimated at $25,000–$35,000, brought $68,750. And Pequeño Teatro, a 1996 oil by Roberto Fabelo, soared past its high estimate of $60,000 to $106,250.