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Latin American sales in United States have best year since 2008 financial crisis
Venezuelan kinetic artist Jesus Rafael Soto's 1976 "Escritura Cobalto" is seen in this handout released November 18, 2011. "Escritura Cobalto" sold for $530,500 at Sotheby's Latin American art auction on the evening of November 16, 2011. The piece is made of an acrylic on wood with painted metal and nylon string. Soto was a pioneer of kinetic art, which plays on optical illusion. REUTERS/Sotheby's.

By: Walker Simon

NEW YORK, NY (REUTERS).- Latin American art sales, which totaled nearly $90 million in New York in 2011, scored their best year since the 2008 financial crisis, aided by a boom in Brazilian art and demand from Asia.

The sales at Christie's and Sotheby's were second only to the 2008 Latin American market total of $96 million, according to the auction houses.

While they primarily attribute the success to the selective quality of the works, collectors and gallery owners said a bigger factor is the global emergence from recession and demand from countries with strong economic expansion.

Brazil's robust economic growth has helped drive the soaring prices at the auctions, according to Mary-Anne Martin, who owns an art gallery in New York specializing in Latin American works.

"Brazilian art is pulling way ahead because of the Brazilian economy," she explained. "What makes its work so expensive is that Brazilians have a lot of money now and are bidding against each other for prized work."

At Christie's, which sold a total of $20 million in Latin American art this week, the bidding was most heated for Brazilian work. Of the 20 artist records set at the sale, 10 were for Brazilians.

Indonesia's growing wealth has also came into play as its collectors compete for the Balinese work of Mexican artist Miguel Covarrubias.

"Before the Indonesians wanted the art but didn't have the money to pay for it," said Martin. "Now they do."

At Christie's in May, Covarrubias' 1932 "Offering of Fruits for the Temple" set an auction record for the artist at $1.02 million, This week Covarrubias work on paper also hit a new high, selling for $290,500 also at Christie's.

At Sotheby's in May, many Southeast Asians bid online, with Thailand, Singapore, Indonesia and Vietnam well represented in an auction. Sotheby's said Asian buyers snatched the top-selling works by Fernando Botero.

"Botero is the best known living artist in the world," said Sotheby's Latin American chief Carmen Melian.

Christie's said a private European buyer paid $1.76 million on Tuesday for Botero's bronze "Dancers," the most ever paid at auction for a sculpture by the artist.

(Reporting by Walker Simon; editing by Patricia Reaney)

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