Wifredo Lam and Rufino Tamayo Headline New York’s Bargain-Filled Latin American Auctions

Lam's 1947 work Présages is expected to bring in $2–3 million.


Wifredo Lam, Présages (1947).
(estimate: $2–3 million).
Image: Courtesy of Phillips.

Latin American art takes its turn in the spotlight at New York auctions this week—now that the dust is settling from weeks of contemporary auctions, Frieze, and related fairs and events. Sales kick off this afternoon at Phillips, and this evening at Sotheby’s, followed by Christie’s evening sale on May 27. Sotheby’s and Christie’s also hold day sales on May 27 and May 28 respectively.

The Latin American auctions have long been something of a self-contained universe, dominated as they are by buyers from South American countries including Mexico, Argentina, Brazil, Uruguay, Colombia and elsewhere. But its not hard to see why the vibrant color palette and fantasticial, frequently surrealist-style imagery of stars like Cuban artist Wifredo Lam and Mexican painter Rufino Tamayo might have broad appeal and strike a chord with contemporary collectors (see Jesús Rafael Soto and Kinetic Art Storm the Market and Frida Kahlo Market Booming Despite Tough Export Restrictions).

Phillips sale which starts at 4pm, will feature 106 lots and has a presale estimate of $8–11.8 million. Among the highlights is a modern work by Wifredo Lam, Présages (1947), which is expected to bring $2–3 million.  The painting, which was in a private collection for nearly 40 years, “explores the possibilities of cubism and expanded the innovative parameters of surrealism,” according to a statement from Phillips (see Will The Havana Bienal Be a Bonanza for Cuban Artists? and Tania Brugera Detained During Havana Bienial).

Also on offer is Roberto Obregón’s Ene Eme, y Ene De (1994), estimated at $150,000–250,000) and part of the artist’s pivotal series “Las Niágaras,” and Carlos Cruz-Diez’s Physichrome No. 655, (1973), estimated at $220,000–280,000.

Rufino Tamayo, La Familia  (date), (estimate: $1.2–1.6 million. Image: Courtesy of Sotheby's.

Rufino Tamayo, La Familia (date), (estimate: $1.2–1.6 million.
Image: Courtesy of Sotheby’s.

Sotheby’s is also holding a separate sale titled “Latin America, the Legacy of Abstraction,” at 7pm, highlighting a style perhaps more commonly associated with painters from Russia, France and the US, and featuring 37 lots by artists such as Olga de Amaral, Mira Schendel, Carlos Cruz-Diez, Joaquin Torres-Garcia, Lygia Clark, and Jesus Rafael Soto. It is estimated to realize between $5.3 million and $7.45 million.

Sotheby’s main evening sale, Latin American Art Modern and Contemporary, at 7:30 will offer 32 lots and is expected to realize a total between $8.6 million and $12 million. Expected stars include Tamayo’s La familia (1987), which is described as the “last and definitive version of this endearing motif, according to Sotheby’s catalogue. “It is also widely respected as one of the artist’s most accomplished compositions from the last decade of his sixty-year career,” according to the catalogue. It carries the highest estimated price of the sale at $1.2–1.6 million.

Also among the top lots is Lam’s Les Oiseauc Voilés (1945), which is expected to realize $1 million to $1.5 million. “The familiar motifs allude to beliefs and/or ceremonies in Afro-Cuban culture and at the same time re-create a sense of a lush tropical landscape,” according to the catalogue entry.


Remedios Varo, Vampiros vegetarianos (1962) is estimated at $1–1.5 milllion.
Image: Courtesy of Christie’s.

A highlight of Christie’s evening sale is Remedios Varo’s Vegetarian Vampires (1962), which carries an estimate of $1.5–2 million and has never before been offered at auction. Executed in 1962 at the height of the artist’s career, the work exemplifies the dream-like atmospheres for which the artist is best known. It was featured prominently at her final exhibition at Galería Juan in Mexico City. The current auction record for Varo is over $4 million, set this past November at Sotheby’s.

Also on offer is Diego Rivera’s Lavandares con zopilotes (1928) which is estimated at $700,000–900,000. Christie’s will offer more than 260 lots and expects to realize more than $22 million.



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