artnet Asks: The Most Active Auction House in Mexico

A cigarette or two might be in order, if you're the one doing the auctioning.

Luis C. López Morton continues a long line of business tradition by leading the widely succesful Morton Casa de Subastas. The auction house, located in Mexico City, has been gaining more international appeal due to the increased global interest in the Mexican art and antiques market.

Their upcoming auction, Subasta de Arte Latinoamericano, takes place this Thursday, November 12, and features work by Rufino Tamayo, Fernanda Bruenet, Alfonso Michel, and many others. Here, Luis C. López Morton talks about what made him want to start the business, and the electric atmosphere of a live auction—that he directs himself.

Rufina Tamayo, Pareja, Couple (1975). Courtesy of Morton Casa De Subastas.

Rufina Tamayo, Pareja, Couple (1975). Courtesy of Morton Casa De Subastas.

Tell us about your background in art and what led you here.
My grandfather had an antiques store in Mexico City, and from there he started making reproductions and had a furniture factory. My father worked with him and then went his own way, starting another furniture business. I worked with my father for over 10 years in the furniture business, and during that time there was always talk about antiques, paintings, reproductions, Sotheby’s Park Bernett, and so on. I was always interested in the antiques and auction business.

When I decided to quit my job with my father, I first worked at a brokerage firm. At that time we took a skiing trip to Courchevel and stayed in London for three or four days, and I walked into Sotheby’s on New Bond Street and saw an auctioneer, the room, the paintings, the porters—everything.

At that moment, I knew what I had to do: become an auctioneer and build the auction house in Mexico.

What do you need to be a good dealer?
Have a very good eye—read lots, see lots of lots. Be fair with the consignor-vendor as well as the buyer.

Fernanda Bruenet, K Boom! (2015). Courtesy of Morton Casa De Subastas.

Fernanda Bruenet, K Boom! (2015). Courtesy of Morton Casa De Subastas.

What has been the highlight of your career so far? What has surprised you the most?
That we are a player in the Mexican Market –with Fine Art, Books and Jewelry– and every year we get more interest from outside Mexico.

How do you feel before a sale? Do you have any pre-sale rituals?
If I am auctioning, usually I have two or three  cigarettes 15 minutes before the auction, and concentrate on numbers and phrases. “…On my right… the lady in blue…” And I wash my hands just before I go up to the rostrum.

Claudia Bravo, Zeus (blue) (1988). Courtesy of Morton Casa De Subastas.

Claudia Bravo, Zeus (blue) (1988). Courtesy of Morton Casa De Subastas.

How would you describe the atmosphere of an auction house sale? How has this environment changed over the years?
The atmosphere before a big auction is electric. There are always questions from the buyers—last-minute questions that you wished they could have asked beforehand—and opinions on some lots, both good and bad.

In our Mexico auctions we still don’t have many people on the internet, but I have noticed that at some other auction houses, some auctions lack the intensity of the buyers and onlookers of our fully-live auction.

Why do works by the same artist bring such different prices?
Some works I guess are more photogenic, and maybe the owner is more sympathetic, and their lots sell higher, than those vendors that give more trouble with estimates and conditions.

How do you select most of your consignments? Are you reaching out to clients? Or are they coming to you?Both ways. Many we go out and reach for them and many come because they know us, or by a recommendation.

Bids are increasingly coming from all corners of the world. What can you say about this trend?
Yes, obviously this is because of the internet. By now, we have sold lots to Australia and South Arabia. At the beginning we never thought that would happen, and it is a growing trend that doesn’t amaze us any more.

Carlos Ríos, Cielo nublado (2000). Courtesy of Morton Casa De Subastas.

Carlos Ríos, Cielo nublado (2000). Courtesy of Morton Casa De Subastas.

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