Phillips, a reference vendor for Latin American art



The auction company Phillips has become a leading specialist in the sale of Latin American art. Today considered a reference in the field, it provides strong competition to Christie’s and Sotheby’s for control of this lucrative segment which regularly throws up important works by major artists like Diego Rivera, Rufino Tamayo and Wilfredo Lam (whose masterpiece Présage fetched $2.6 million in May 2015).

Phillips doesn’t just focus on high profile signatures; for years it has been exploring the emerging Latam scene and raising American collectors’ awareness of the subcontinent’s creative riches. With demand considerably expanding in recent years, Phillips has posted a 305% increase in turnover on Latin American art since 2009. On 23 May, the company held a lengthy sale in New York with 133 catalogued lots, of which 90 found buyers (an unsold rate of 32%), generating a total of $4.65 million. We take a look at the results over $100,000… 12 works by 12 artists who all attracted lively bidding.

12 artists above the $100,000 threshold

As well as the two always-present signatures Jesús Rafael SOTO (1923-2005) who reached 7-figures in 2012 (Sotheby’s New York) and the Surrealist Roberto MATTA (1911-2002), ten other Latin American artists generated top level results, starting with the Mexican Post-Minimalist artist Gabriel OROZCO (born 1962) whose painting Samurai Tree 21k (2011) scored the sale’s best result at $418,000, a new record for a painting of this size (less than a metre).

At over 100 years old, the Cuban artist Carmen HERRERA (born in 1915) has become one of the most sought-after living artists of our time. Her prices have soared since the early 2010s, having obtained the support of London’s powerful Lisson Gallery.

The work in gold by Colombian artist Olga DE AMARAL (born 1932) is very well received by the market. Her work has been acquired by the Museum of Modern Art in New York, the Musée d’Art Moderne de la ville de Paris and Japan’s National Museum of Modern Art in Kyoto, among others. For the time being, her secondary market is limited to the United States. Phillips sold her glittering Umbra B at double the low estimate for a final price of $334,000.

Since the beginning of the millennium, the Brazilian artist Hélio OITICICA (1937-1980) – whose works are rare on the market – has enjoyed strong price inflation. At the Phillips sale, his red gouache work Metaesquema (1958) generated his second best auction result at $286,000.

Ranchos de Macuto (1941), by the Venezuelan painter Armando REVERON (1889-1954) – whose market was revived in 2007 by a retrospective at the MoMA – fetched $262,000. His all-time record has not been refreshed since 2012 when his painting Desnudo Detrás de la Mantilla fetched $872,500 at Sotheby’s New York (23 May 2012).

Cildo MEIRELES (born 1948) – the first Brazilian artist to have enjoyed a retrospective at London’s Tate Gallery (2008) – now has the wind in his ‘sales’, after generating a new record of $641,000 last year at Christie’s in New York (for his installation Rodos, sold on 27 May 2015). The sculpture that just sold at Phillips fetched one of his 10 best results: $212,500 for Ouro e paus. Engradados.

The Cuban artist Amelia PELAEZ (1897-1968) was among the sale’s 6-figure results with a 1930 canvas, Pescados grises, that fetched $212,500. The artist has attracted strong demand in the United States over the last 20 years and her auction record was hammered by Phillips three years ago with a 1943 painting Las Hermana, that buried its estimates; fetching $569,000 (23 May 2013).

Very popular with American collectors, Guillermo David KUITCA (born 1961) saw his Untitled (Zurich) fetch $175,000. Recall that Kuitca represented Argentina at the 2007 Venice Biennale, his best year in terms of auction market turnover ($1.1 million versus half that the following year). His market has remained sluggish since.

The last two artists are Roberto OBREGON (1946-2003) whose primary market has been tightening significantly, and the much coveted Mathías GOERITZ (1915-1990) who had his best-ever auction turnover in 2015.
In sum… the year has started reasonably well for Latin American art which remains a promising segment and one of the market’s most stimulating.