NEW YORK.- Sotheby’s made auction history when a masterpiece by famed Mexican artist Frida Kahlo (lot 6) sold for $5,616,000 to an anonymous bidder on the telephone, setting a new record for a Latin American work of art at auction and for the artist at auction. Roots, 1943, oil on metal, one of the most beautifully detailed works from Kahlo’s most celebrated period, had never before appeared on the public market. The sale totaled $22,001,200, the highest total ever for a sale of Latin American Art at auction, far above its pre-sale estimate (est. $14.6/19.8 million*), and set records for a number of artists, including Francisco Zúñiga, Tomás Sánchez, Julio Ruelas, Esteban Chartrand, Edmund Darch Lewis, Luis Armando Zesatti, Rodolfo Opazo, Luis Tomasello, Ricardo Mazal, Raynaldo Fonseca, Hugo Demarco and Martha Boto. Sotheby’s tied the record for Botero at auction and also set records for a Botero sculpture at auction and for works on paper by Leonora Carrington and Cândido Portinari at auction.
Carmen Melián, Director of Sotheby’s Latin American Art Department, said: “This was a landmark sale for Latin American Art, the highest total ever for an auction of this category, was more than $5 million higher than the previous record, set in 1994 with our IBM sale. The success of the sale is a result of the broadening market over the past two decades. We were especially pleased by the price achieved for Grupo de Cuatro Mujeres de Pie by Zúñiga, one of the great sculptors of the 20th century. Works by Kinetic artists sold well: the Tomasello set a record for the artist at auction, and works by Soto and Le Parc achieved solid prices.”
Completed after Kahlo remarried her lifelong love, Diego Rivera, Roots symbolizes their unity after years of pain and suffering. It is among the few full-length self-portraits by Kahlo in existence, measures 30.5 by 49.9 cm (12 by 19 1/2 ins). Roots had been in a North American Collection for over twenty years and was exhibited last year in the 2005 Frida Kahlo retrospective at the Tate Modern. Of the limited number of works produced during Kahlo’s lifetime, her self-portraits are her most famous and well-known. Executed in 1943, following Kahlo’s reunion with Rivera, Roots depicts Kahlo in a rocky area, the Pedregal in the south of Mexico City, where Rivera designed the Anahuacalli Museum to house his pre-Columbian art collection.
At least three bidders competed for Francisco Zúñiga’s Grupo de Cuatro Mujeres de Pie, 1974, which brought an astounding $3,712,000, over four times its high estimate, ultimately selling to an anonymous bidder in the room (lot 19, $700/900,000). Grupo de Cuatro Mujeres de Pie is the artist’s answer to Rodin’s famous Les Bourgeois de Calais and is the most important work by the artist -- one of the most distinguished masters of sculpture -- ever to be offered at auction. The sculpture, acquired directly from the artist by its current owner, depicts a girl and four women standing, each representing all the ages of woman: childhood, adolescence, motherhood and maturity or old age.
Fernando Botero’s canvas Cuatro Músicos (Four Musicians) tied the record for the artist at auction, selling for $2,032,000 (lot 14, est. $1/1.5 million) to an anonymous bidder on the phone. Painted in 1984, the painting depicts four men playing instruments -- the tuba, flute, violin and piano -- in a salon in which couples dance in the background. A large outdoor bronze sculpture by Botero, Bird, sold for $1,052,000 to an American private collector (lot 13, $500/600,000), a record for a sculpture by the artist at auction, and was executed in 1988. Another Botero bronze sculpture, Man on a Horse, achieved $329,600 (lot 21, est. $200/250,000).
Leonora Carrington’s painting Un Sueño en el Bosque (The 19th Hole), circa 1958, brought $553,600 (lot 8, est. $350/450,000). The painting reveals an isolated forest setting with a strange and unsettling crowd of black-cloaked figures gathered in a clearing. The scene, with whimsical themes, people and objects, is filled with exquisite examples of the artist’s esoteric interests at the time. The work of the Mexican Surrealist artist Remedios Varo was represented by El Camino Árido from 1962, which sold for $352,000 to a Latin American private collector (lot 9, est. $275/325,000).
Highlighting the outstanding works from the Kinetic movement were Jesús Rafael Soto’s Écriture Verte, 1965, which sold for $273,600 (lot 43, est. $150/200,000); Luis Tomasello’s Objet Plastique No. 201, which achieved for $31,200 (lot 46, est. $10/15,000), a record for the artist at auction; Julio Le Parc’s Continuant Lumière Avec 16 Cylindres, which brought $45,000 (lot 47, est. $10/15,000).
Sotheby’s is currently the dominant force in the international market for Latin American Art. Sotheby’s sales total of Latin American Art in 2005 exceeded any annual total for any auction house in the field. Since 1985, Sotheby’s has achieved seventeen of the top twenty annual sales totals and, in the past five years alone, has outperformed the nearest competitor by $32.2 million. Sotheby’s held the previous record for a work by Frida Kahlo at auction: in May 2000, Self-Portrait, 1929, sold for $5,065,750 (est. $3/4 million), which, at the time, was a also record for a female artist at auction.