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Christie's Latin American sale presents masterpieces by Matta, Carrington, Portinari & Botero
Leonora Carrington (British/Mexican 1917-2011) with José Horna (Spanish/Mexican 1912-1963), La cuna (The Cradle). Painted wood with mesh cloth, grommets and rope, executed circa 1949. Estimate: $1,500,000-2,500,000. Photo: Christie's Images Ltd 2012.

NEW YORK, NY.- On May 22 and 23, Christie's Latin American sale will offer an exceptional selection of works by modern and contemporary masters hailing from Mexico, Venezuela, Brazil, Argentina, Puerto Rico, Colombia, and many other regions throughout the Americas. Rich in works from private collections, the two-day auction presents over 300 works by leading Latin American artists such as Fernando Botero, Miguel Covarrubias, Matta, Joaquín Torres-García, Candido Portinari, and Leonora Carrington, among others. The sale is expected to realize upwards of $20 million.

The Arnolfini (after Van Eyck) (lot 25) is one of Fernando Botero’s many visual citations of the renowned Flemish Renaissance painting, a work of art that has fascinated and inspired the artist since the 1960s (estimate: $500,000-700,000). Offered to the market for the first time, this version is perhaps the most complex and charming. Here, Botero has recreated several details from Van Eyck’s version, including the open window with the apple on the sill, the elaborately draped canopy bed, and the use of the floorboards and ceiling beams to emphasize the perspective, all the while maintaining his unmistakably unique style.

From the esteemed Robert Brady Museum Foundation and formerly in the collection of the cosmetics magnate Helena Rubinstein, Bather Holding Up Her Kemban (lot 4) by Miguel Covarrubias (estimate: $300,000-500,000) reflects the artist’s deep love and fascination for the Indonesian island of Bali. He first travelled to Bali in 1930 as a newlywed with his bride and fellow artist Rosa Rolando. A Guggenheim Fellowship provided him with funds for a subsequent trip in 1933, which led to his publication of the well-received book Island of Bali in 1937 as well as a series of drawings and paintings of which this work is a wonderful and rare example. In works like Bather Holding Up Her Kemban, Covarrubias encapsulates his passion and romanticized vision of Bali’s inhabitants and landscape as a truly earthly paradise of the South Seas.

La révolte des contraires (lot 10) by Matta was painted in 1944, when the artist had arrived in New York, after emigrating from Chile and living briefly in Paris (estimate: $1,800,000-2,500,000). Upon his arrival in the United States, Matta quickly gained critical acclaim from the press, with the exhibition of his works at the Julien Levy Gallery and the Pierre Matisse Gallery. La révolte des contraires was painted at a time of great personal and professional growth for the artist. Matta sought to depict a cataclysmic space in a perpetual state of flux, with the utilization of thin washes of pigment, undulating lines, and flame-like breakouts of prismatic color.

Candido Portinari’s contemporary oil paintings kindle the intense human emotion of his murals on a more intimate scale, and the epic Navio negreiro, 1950 (lot 64) (the cover lot of the catalogue, estimate: $700,000-900,000) originally from the renowned collection of Brazilian Ambassador Jayme de Barros, depicts a foundational episode in the history of Brazil. An homage to Brazil’s African roots and, at the same time, an indictment of the conditions of the slave trade, Navio negreiro is a powerful national acknowledgment of Brazil’s past and, no less, a testament to the diversity of its present.

Upon his return to Montevideo, Uruguay in 1934, one of Joaquín Torres-García’s first undertakings was the construction of Cosmic Monument, a free-standing stone wall intended as a public manifestation of his aesthetic ideals. Throughout the late 1930s, the artist rendered several paintings that were inspired by the monument, one of which is Grafismo universal sobre fondo gris, 1937(lot 16) (estimate: $1,000,000-1,500,000). The paintings from this final Montevidean period represent the culmination of Torres-García’s career, in which he deftly integrated formal modernist motifs and the symbolic hieroglyphs of the ancient Americas. Grafismo universal sobre fondo gris projects a vibrant composite image of transcendence and unity, animated at its core by the rich symbology and history of the Americas.

Claudio Bravo’s Psalterium (lot 26) belongs to a series of paintings of draped fabrics the artist executed between 1997 and 2002 (estimate: $800,000-1,200,000). Christened with religious titles, such as Benedictus, Offertorio, and Annunciation, the series renders the sacred tantalizingly sensual through masterful illusionism and the luminous vitality of richly saturated, jewel-toned colors. Bravo’s affinity with antiquity is also evident, as the streamlined folds of painted fabric recall the timeless elegance of classical drapery.

Christie’s has been entrusted with the sale of the surrealist masterpiece La cuna (The Cradle) (lot 40) (estimate: $1,500,000-2,000,000) executed circa 1949 by the British-born Mexican artist Leonora Carrington with fellow Mexican artist José Horna. Originally fabricated by Horna for his daughter and lovingly embellished by Carrington with a lively procession of painted fantastical creatures, including an egg (one of the artist’s favorite alchemical symbols) with tree on top. Although primarily known for her paintings, like other surrealists, Carrington ventured into other media during her prolific career, such as jewelry, ceramics, tapestries, masks, costume designs, theatrical backdrops, sculpture, and on rare occasions, furniture. La cuna is a stunning and unique example of the artist’s foray into this latter arena and a truly rare instance within the history of surrealism of an object made for a child. Beds held a particularly elevated status within the iconography of surrealism as the locus for their explorations into sexuality, dreams, and the unconscious. Carrington’s cradle, however, reflects her long fascination with the magical potential of childhood, and what could be a more suitable metaphor than a bed shaped like a boat that could sail a child into the wondrous land of dreams.

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May 3, 2012

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