Latin American art auction fetches $11 million

NEW YORK Fri May 29, 2009 5:59pm BST

1 of 3. A self-portrait of Diego Rivera is seen during Christie's Latin America Sale press preview in New York May 26, 2009.

Credit: Reuters/Shannon Stapleton

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NEW YORK (Reuters) - Latin American art works fetched a total of more than $11 million in a comparatively strong sale that set five world auction records for the artists, Christie's said.

Virgilio Garza, Christie's Latin American chief, credited the excitement about the Thursday evening sale to the top three selling works, all from the 1940s and rarely available to the market.

"That really brought people in," he told Reuters, "People flew in from all over."

A rediscovered 1943 masterpiece of Cuban modernism by artist Mario Carreno called "Fuego en el Batey," (Fire in the Farm), was the top seller at $2.1 million. A family on Long Island unexpectedly offered the work, whose whereabouts had been unknown.

Layered in thick swipes of industrial car enamel, it depicts a panic-stricken mother handing a child to a man on horseback fleeing a burning farm. Its swirling colorful arcs and the horse's blurred motion recall the Italian Futurists, Garza said.

Mexican Leonora Carrington's "The Giantess," sold for $1.42 million, setting a record for the English-born surrealist who is still active at 93 years old.

"The Giantess" shows a towering blond allegorically commanding flora and fauna, the earth, sea and sky, Christie's said. The work, set mostly against a watery background, embodies her fascination with mystical femininity.

A 1941 Diego Rivera self-portrait had a $1.02 million price tag. Painted at age 55, Rivera's wife Frida Kahlo said he looked like a frog in the piece, with his skin tinged with green and one eye drooping, according to Garza.

Another auction record was set when Argentina's Roberto Aizenberg's 1988-1989 "Pintura," fetched $146,500. It shows a stylized russet red building, with rectangular setbacks, poking a dark green sky verging on black. Framing the sides are greens shading into mottled yellows.

Works by two Brazilian and a Cuban artist also set auction records. Helio Oiticica's abstract blue-black grid painting "Metasquema 19," painted in 1957-58, sold for $186,500, while Lygia Pape's Untitled (Grupo Frente), a wood relief from 1954, fetched $86,500.

Cuban Rene Portocarrero's Untitled "(Woman with Umbrella)," sold for $52,500, a top price for the artist for a work on paper.

"Latin American art continues to be exciting for a loyal group," Garza said.

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