The Market of Contemporary Art

Cuba in 2016

/ 1 March, 2017

(…) The 2016 winter auctions concluded a great year for Cuban art in the international market. Those fulfilled in New York on November 22 (Phillips) and on November 22 and 23 (Sotheby’s and Christie’s) were the culmination of a year of records and of successful introduction of new artists in the circuit of international auctions.

(…) Phillips continued demonstrating an interest for presenting and introducing in the international market a larger variety of Latin American artists. In this auction they included 103 lots, of which 21 corresponded to Cuban artists, among them several who worked in geometric abstraction and kinetic sculpture and who had been members of the group Diez Pintores Concretos between 1958 and 1961: Loló Soldevilla, Wilfredo Arcay, Sandú Darié, José Mijares, Pedro de Oraá, Salvador Corratgé and José Rosabal, who gradually have begun to be recognized by the market and whose prices today have increased. (…) Among the sales of works by Cuban artists, the piece by Loló Soldevilla Homenaje a Theo V. Doesburg, Composición No. 7, Variación Las Tres Gracias (Tribute to…, Composition no. 7, Variation The Three Graces) made in 1950, of 13½ x 19¼ inches, and which was sold in 75.000 USD, surpassing its estimate of 30-50.000 USD. (…)

It should be emphasized that the auction by Phillips began with the sale of a watercolor on paper of big dimensions (45 x 65¾ inches) by Los Carpinteros, made in 2004, in 40.000 USD, a notorious price for a work on paper. To complete the presence of Cuban artists that night, an oil on canvas from 1962 by Wifredo Lam, entitled Midnight, which had been exhibited in the Musée d’Art Moderne of the Ville de Paris in occasion of the V Salon de Grands et Jeunes d’aujourd’hui, homage à Jean Cocteau in 1963, was presented but did not find a buyer. Also two works by Mario Carreño, with an unequal fate. And as in each auction artists in active as Manuel Mendive and others from the subsequent generations were presented, as Tania Bruguera, Alexandre Arrechea, José Bedia, Roberto Diago, Abel Barroso―whose work ATM (Cajero Automático), a wood cut on sculpted wood, was sold in 6.250 USD, within the estimated price―and Carlos Garaicoa, with two beautiful works on paper, Y nos obliga a volar en la misma dirección (And It Compels Us to Fly in the Same Direction, 1998) and Este Silencio Ambiguo (This Ambiguous Silence, 1999), which achieve a joint price of 22.500 USD, well above its initial estimate.

 But a Cuban artist particularly stood out in this month of November, and it was Carmen Herrera. Her work Cerulean, an acrylic on canvas made in 1965 of 69 x 68½ inches, which was presented in an estimate of 600 –800.000 USD, was finally sold for the price of 970.000 USD. This piece was not included as part of the auction of Latin American art, but it headed the much more prestigious auction “20 Century and Contemporary Art Evening Sale” held on November 16th in New York. (…)

In the auction of Latin American art by Christie’s, a total of 215 lots were presented, of which 38 corresponded to works by Cuban artists, in a similar quantity to those of Mexican artists. These were the countries with larger representation, very much above the 16 lots of Argentinean art.

The Cuban artist with more lots in the auction (seven works) was Wifredo Lam, which correspond with the important presence he has in the market. Among the pieces presented, several which in former years had already been sold in auctions, were included. Although none of them is a significant work of the artist, all found a buyer in the estimated prices.

Also four pieces by René Portocarrero and the same quantity by Víctor Manuel were presented. In the case of Portocarrero, a new record was established with his work Paisaje de La Habana (Landscape of Havana), an oil on canvas of 1961, representative of this period of the artist, and also had great success Retrato de Flora (Portrait of Flora), sold in 100.000 USD.

With the works by Víctor Manuel several records were also stablished. In particular, Carnaval (Escena de Comparsa) (Carnival, Scene of Masquerade), an oil on canvas to with no date, as was a habit in his works, made in the last years of his career (…) this piece, 36 x 28¾ inches, reached a price of 315.000 USD, within the low estimate for the work, but this undoubtedly constitutes a record for a work of this thematic and period. The oil on canvas, 21½ x 18 inches, entitled Malecón was the surprise when widely surpassing the estimate, and was finally sold in a little more than 210.000 USD.

Christie’s is not characterized for presenting in its main auction of Latin American art a great quantity of artists from recent generations and this year was not the exception. However, three works by Manuel Mendive, who in the last editions has always been represented because of the interest shown by the market, were put on sale. Two recent pieces were sold in the estimated prices, and a work from 1997, Untitled, 31 x 40½ inches, found a buyer in 30.000 USD. (…)

Tomás Sánchez, who is undoubtedly the Cuban artist in active with larger representation in the secondary market, since he is again found in the list of those more sold in 2016 according to Artprice website (occupying the place 162, when obtaining a volume of sales of some more than one million dollars), was chosen to open Christie’s auction. His work Contemplador en Diagonal, 2016, sold in favor of a non-governmental organization with which the artist collaborates, found a buyer in twice the price of base. Also a work made in 1995 was sold, within the range of the estimated prize, which demonstrates that his landscapes always have acceptance in the market, independently from the date of realization.

(…) But, undoubtedly, the most outstanding moments were the sale of the painting Untitled, by Roberto Fabelo, 1988, 32 x 39⅓ inches, at the price of 100.000 USD, which confirms the preponderance painting has in the market of this artist, since his works in this medium multiply the price of his drawings; and that of Héroe Criollo (Creole Hero) by Carlos Enríquez―made in 1943 and exhibited in 1944 in the Palacio de Bellas Artes in Mexico―, sold in 967.500 USD, more than twice its estimate. For many years this work was part of the collection of Haitian politician Gerard Lescot. And, of course, what was more notorious was the sale of Pelea de gallos (Rooster Fight) by Mariano Rodríguez in more than a million dollars. This work, an oil on canvas of 1942, had been exhibited in 1944 in Modern Cuban Painters exhibition made in the Museum of Modern Art in New York. (…)

On the other hand, in Sotheby’s more than 200 lots were also presented. (…) As to Cuban artists, it should be highlighted that, without counting Wifredo Lam, of which five works were presented in auction, the most represented artists were René Portocarrero with three pieces―including a colorful oil on paper of 1944 which found the favor of a buyer in a price which triplicated its estimated, and that had already been presented in auction in 1980―, and the collective The Merger with two drawings and a sculpture that found buyers, which shows a solid market for their works consolidated with the passing of years. (…).

Sotheby’s also presented a work by Flavio Garciandía and two drawings by José Bedia. It should be highlighted that the three auction houses included in their catalogues pieces by Loló Soldevilla and Cundo Bermúdez. (…)


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