Top 10 Cuban works



Another Friday Top! Every other Friday, Artprice posts a theme-based auction ranking. This week, we focus on the ten works by Cuban artists to reach the highest auction prices in 2015.

Major auction houses have been dedicating sessions to Latin American art since 2009 (first at Phillips de Pury & Company, then at Sotheby’s and Christie’s), thus contributing to the standing and revaluation of Cuban artists. Most of the best results were therefore recorded in New York, but this ranking reveals an active market in Miami too, with the presence of Miami Auction Gallery and FAAM-Fine Art Auctions.

Top 10 Cuban works in 2015
Rank Artist Hammer Price Artwork Sale
1 Felix GONZALEZ-TORRES $7,669,000 Untitled (L.A.) (1991) 2015-11-10 Christie’s New York NY
2 Wifredo LAM $2,629,000 Présages (1947) 2015-05-26 Phillips New York NY
3 Wifredo LAM $1,805,000 Femme cheval (1950) 2015-11-12 Christie’s New York NY
4 Wifredo LAM $1,210,000 Les Oiseaux Voilés 2015-05-26 Sotheby’s New York NY
5 Wifredo LAM $725,000 La Barrière (1964) 2015-11-20 Christie’s New York NY
6 Dario VIEJO $692,664 El Mutante (2012) 2015-12-15 Miami Auction Gallery Miami FL
7 Wifredo LAM $610,000 Les Sabots et la Main (1966) 2015-11-19 Sotheby’s New York NY
8 Mario CARREÑO $605,500 Danza de las máscaras (1943) 2015-04-23 FAAM-Fine Art Auctions Miami Miami FL
9 JOSIGNACIO $574,750 The key of Success (2011) 2015-12-15 Miami Auction Gallery Miami FL
10 Tomás SANCHEZ $545,000 Oír las aguas (1995) 2015-05-27 Christie’s New York NY
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The winner by far is the artist Wifredo Lam (1902-1982) who occupies no less than half of the overall ranking. His domination among the best performing Cubans at auction is not surprising in view of his current exposure (Wifredo Lam Retrospective in Paris) and the international recognition he gained during his lifetime. After joining the Surrealist group in Marseille in 1940, Lam set off for Martinique, Cuba and Haiti, and in 1943 completed his first masterpiece, The Jungle, which caused a scandal when exhibited in New York in 1944, but was purchased by MoMA the following year (The Jungle is currently exhibited at the Pompidou Centre as part of the retrospective dedicated to the artist).
Supported by gallery owner Pierre Matisse in New York, he exhibited increasingly throughout the late 1940s (Cuba, USA, Sweden, Belgium, England, France and Japan), participating in the second edition of Documenta at the Maeght Gallery, and continued to travel (Venezuela, Colombia, Brazil, Cuba, Italy, India and Africa). A fervent defender of the Cuban Revolution of 1959, he was considered by Fidel Castro to be the most important Cuban artist, and became a true ambassador for Cuban painting.
While still travelling much, he made Paris his base in the 1950s. He died there in 1982, hailed by the greatest artists of his time, and honoured by an exhibition at the Modern Art Museum in Paris a year later. The five works by Lam among this Top Ten were created between 1940 and 1960, and sold for between USD 610,000 and USD 2.6m. Auctioned for USD 2.6m, the 1947 canvas Présages (Omens) was included in a special sale dedicated to Latin America at Phillips, where it was the crowning masterpiece.

Born in 1957 in Guáimaro Cuba, Felix Gonzalez-Torres never reached the age of 40. He died in 1996 in Miami. This American artist of Cuban origin began his career in the 1980s, period of the onset of AIDS. The essence of his work was to be closely concerned with the fragility of life. His works have become increasingly popular on the market, giving rise to exceptional auction results in 2015 of over USD 7m in revenue. One of his installations, composed of sweets placed on the ground like a prayer mat, was sold for a record USD 7.6m at Christie’s (New York, 10 November 2015). The best result for Felix Gonzalez-Torres had thus increased by USD 3m since 2010, a phenomenon attributable to the extreme rarity of his installations on the market. None had come up for auction since 2013.

Dario Viejo (born 1966) is a newcomer to the best auction ranking. Supported by American collectors and galleries (including those of Miami), the market for his work has picked up considerably, with record annual sales of USD 1.1m in 2015 compared with USD 117,800 the previous year. Dario Viejo outperformed Mario Carreño (1913-1999), even though the works of this Cuban surrealist are better known in auction houses (about USD 910,000 of sales volume in 2015). The artist has also exceeded the million dollar threshold twice in the past (2007 and 2009).

Famous in Cuba and Miami, Josignacio (born in 1963) first attracted attention at auctions on the American West Coast in 2014. The selling price reached last year for his well-named canvas Les Clefs du Succès (The Keys of Success) was the third to exceed the threshold of USD 500,000 since 2014. As for Tomás Sanchez (born in 1948), he makes it into the ranking with a sale concluded for USD 545,000 in May 2015 at Christie’s New York for a large acrylic on canvas dating from 1995. For Sanchez, this is not the absolute record, amounting to USD 653,000 for the sale of Meditador y laguna escondida en el bosque (Meditator and Lagoon Hidden in the Forest), at Sotheby’s New York on 24 November 2014. His price index has continued its meteoric rise, with an increase of 280% since 2000.

Upcoming auctions dedicated to Latin American art are to be held in May 2016 in New York, first at Sotheby’s and at Phillips on 24 May, then at Christie’s on 25 and 26 May.