Market Snapshot: Francisco Zúñiga

Dealers say the Mexican modernist is widely collected but undervalued.

Francisco Zúñiga Banista / Mujer Agachada (Bather / Crouching Woman), 1971

Francisco Zúñiga
Mexican, 1912–1998
Jack Rutberg Fine Arts

Costa Rica-born Mexican modernist Francisco Zúñiga, best known for his monumental sculptures of indigenous Central American women, still attracts a vigorous market.

Zúñiga’s auction record is the 2006 sale of the larger-than-life sculpture group Grupo de cuatro mujeres de pie (1974), which brought in $3,712,000 at Sotheby’s Latin American Art Sale in New York. Last May, Zúñiga’s Desnudo de pie (1956), a standing female nude carved in Chiluca stone, hit the block at Christie’s. It sold for $233,000, including buyer’s premium, well above the presale high estimate of $150,000.

Los Angeles-based dealer Jack Rutberg, who represents the artist’s estate, is confident there is room for growth in Zúñiga’s market. “There is no question that Zúñiga’s works are undervalued, as he is a formidable part of the canon,” he said. Much of the growth in the Latin American art market, Rutberg told artnet in an email interview, “has understandably been generated by the promotion of the contemporary scene. If you look at auction houses like Phillips, they have all but ignored most of 20th-century Mexican art.” The classical monumentality of Zúñiga’s sculptures doesn’t square with what Rutberg calls the “pop mentality” dominating the marketplace. Despite this, Zúñiga is immensely popular with collectors around the world. According to one study cited by Rutberg, Zúñiga is Mexico’s most internationally collected artist by a factor of four to one.

Like that of many Latin American modernists, the prevalence of forgeries has troubled Zúñiga’s market. “In years past, there have been great numbers of fakes on the market, and that caused some issues, of course,” Rutberg said. “In the last decade, the Zúñiga Foundation has devoted itself to documenting the entire body of work, ridding the market of a great many false works. My working with the foundation offered any collector, dealer, and auction house an easy means of authentication.”

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