Diego Rivera poised to top NY Latam art auctions

NEW YORK Mon May 21, 2012 4:00pm EDT

1 of 6. An undated handout photo shows Mexican Diego Rivera's 1939 'Nina En Azul y Blanco' (Girl in Blue and White), which portrays the girl in indigenous dress enveloped by an oversized shawl. It is to be auctioned at Sotheby's at a Latin American art auction on Wednesday evening. Sotheby's estimates it could sell for up to $6 million.

Credit: Reuters/Courtesy Sotheby's/Handout

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NEW YORK (Reuters) - A Diego Rivera portrait of a 10-year old girl, her head cocked and gaze wary, is expected to top this week's Latin American art auctions, where surrealist-tinged works by other artists are also primed to do well.

Rivera's 1939 "Niña En Azul y Blanco" (Girl in Blue and White), which portrays the girl in indigenous dress enveloped by an oversized shawl, could sell for up to $6 million at Sotheby's.

"She pops forward in the painting from a background that is like a sky by (Claude) Monet ... whom he knew in Paris," said Sotheby's senior specialist Carmen Melian about the swirling backdrop of white, pink and violet brush strokes.

Mexico's national heritage laws bar the export of Rivera works, boosting the value of work sold abroad.

The Latin American sales could also benefit from the record-breaking New York auctions in early May, which were led by the $120 million sale of Edvard Munch's "The Scream," the highest price paid for a work of art sold at auction.

"The ripple effect of the 'The Scream' brings optimism to all categories of the market," said Axel Stein, a Sotheby's vice-president. "It brings a sense of security that otherwise fluctuates depending on the season and economic situations."

Virgilio Garza, Christie's Latin American art chief, agrees.

"The market is very energized. It always helps when you come on the trail of such successful sales, at least the excitement trickles down to us."

Christie's estimates a total sale of $22 million to $31 million on Tuesday and Wednesday and Sotheby's says its total could reach more than $35 million on Wednesday and Thursday.

Surrealist art collectors are expected to join bidders for work by Cuba's Wifredo Lam, Chile's Matta and British-Mexican Leonora Carrington, who all lived in Paris in the 1930s and were shaped by surrealism.

Lam blends surrealism and Cuba's santeria religion. Like Haiti's voodoo, santeria is rooted in African Yoruba dieties, such as Ora, the namesake of his 1944 painting "Oya/Divinité de l'Air et de la mort." Sotheby's expect it to sell for between $2 million to $3 million.

Christie's top lot is Matta's 1944 "La revolte des contraires," with an $1.8 million to $2.5 million estimate.

"It is a mental landscape, this idea of the mind being a space that is continually in flux," said Garza. "The liquid drip in the painting is part of (Matta's) breakthrough."

Matta taught Jackson Pollock, who won renown for forsaking brushes for drip painting.

Carrington's toy-like 1945 "La Cuna (The Crib)" is expected to fetch between $1.5 million to $2 million. Made of wood, cloth and rope, its centerpiece is a diminutive sailboat, decorated with her surrealist touches such as a bird playing a harp.

(Editing by Patricia Reaney)

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