Sotheby’s Folds Latin American Art Into Its Marquee Contemporary Sales, Signalling the Sector’s Maturity

The market has changed significantly since Sotheby's held its first Latin American art sale in 1979.

Sotheby's New York. Photo: Richard Levine/Corbis via Getty Images.

In a shift from established practice, Sotheby’s plans to integrate contemporary Latin American art into its contemporary art sales in New York beginning this fall. The move recognizes the growing audience and appetite for work by Latin American artists and comes at a time when collectors and museums alike are beginning to seamlessly integrate Latin American work into their postwar art collections.

Moving forward, works that would normally be included in the Latin American contemporary art sales will be sold at the house’s main contemporary evening, day, and online sales. Lots will continue to be sourced by the house’s existing Latin American and contemporary art specialists. Sotheby’s will also continue to organize bi-annual auctions dedicated Latin American Modern art.

The market has changed significantly since Sotheby’s held its first auction of Latin American art in 1979. “When Sotheby’s inaugurated Latin American Art auctions at the end of the 1970s, works on offer were primarily figurative and Mexican,” Axel Stein, the head of the house’s Latin American art department, said in a statement. “With the emergence and recognition of contemporary artists in Mexico, Brazil, Venezuela, Cuba, Colombia, and Argentina, amongst others, a new interest has developed in the marketplace.” He notes that these artists “often worked and exhibited with their European and American peers.”

Sotheby’s move coincides with the emergence of a powerful group of wealthy Latin American collectors and a push by museums to better integrate Latin American art into their displays. This fall, dozens of institutions across Southern California will present exhibitions exploring the relationship between Latin American art and Los Angeles as part of the Getty-funded Pacific Standard Time: LA/LA initiative. Meanwhile, New York’s Museum of Modern Art plans to present works by Latin American artists recently donated by Patricia Phelps de Cisneros alongside their European and North American peers.

Allan Schwartzman, the chairman of Sotheby’s global fine arts division, said in a statement that he hopes the move will “open the door” for collectors to explore “new realms of brilliant, unique, and historically important artists—some of the most important of the last 70 years. We welcome this opportunity to guide Sotheby’s clients to discover what may appear to be a new world of great art, just as major art historians and museums from MoMA to the Tate have been doing more and more.”

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