Cuban surrealist Lam painting tops Latam art sale

NEW YORK Thu May 24, 2012 1:14am EDT

1 of 7. An undated handout photo shows Cuban Wifredo Lam's 'Idolo (Oya/Diviniti de l'Air et de la mort)', to be auctioned at Sotheby's in New York on Wednesday evening with an estimated sale price of between $2 million to $3 million. Lam blends surrealism and Cuba's Santeria religion. Like Haiti's voodoo, Santeria is rooted in African Yoruba deities, such as Oya, the namesake of this 1944 painting. To match

Credit: Reuters/Courtesy Sotheby's/Handout

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NEW YORK (Reuters) - A painting by Cuban surrealist Wifredo Lam, named for an African Yoruba goddess also worshipped in the Caribbean, led Sotheby's strongest Latin American evening art sale ever on Wednesday night.

Setting an auction record for Lam, the 1944 "Ídolo (Oya/Divinité de l'Air et de la mort)," fetched $4.56 million from a South American collector, more than doubling the late artist's previous top market price.

"We were thrilled with the new record price achieved for Wifredo Lam, which was one of nine new artist records set during the Wednesday evening auction," said Axel Stein, head of Sotheby's Latin American art department.

Lam fused surrealism with santeria, which like Haiti's voodoo, borrows from the Yoruba pantheon. Within the painting, at least six of the santeria deities can be discerned, said Stein of the work, populated by human-animal hybrids.

An Afro-Cuban, Lam's godmother was a santeria priestess. But the artist began to explore the religion in his work after a 1940 trip to Haiti and Cuba with French surrealist leader Andre Breton. Lam died in 1982.

Overall, Sotheby's Wednesday sale achieved a total of $21.8 million, its highest-ever result for an evening sale of Latin American art.

Demand was brisk for Venezuelan art, with records set for three of its 20th century artists: Jesus Rafael Soto, Armando Reveron, and Gertrudis Goldschmidt, also known as Gego.

Soto's top-priced work, which sold for $1.02 million, was "Sin Titulo (Vibración Amarilla Y Blanca)," consisting of paint and metal wires on masonite, executed in 1960.

Reveron's record was his 1946 "Desnudo detras de la mantilla," a 1946 work of tempera, chalk and charcoal on burlap. It sold for $872,500.

Goldschmidt's 1985 "Dibujo sin papel," made of steel rods and threads, set a record for the artist, fetching $602,500.

For Sotheby's, the auction's biggest disappointment was the failure to sell of the top lot, Mexican Diego Rivera's 1939 painting "Niña En Azul y Blanco."

Sotheby's pre-sale price range estimate was between $4 million to $6 million.

But the highest bid Wednesday evening for the painting was $3.7 million, falling short of the minimum, or "reserve," price set by the seller.

However, soon after the auction ended two Latin American buyers stepped forward to see if they could negotiate to buy the work, an oil on canvas, said Stein.

"We're working hard on finding a home for (it)," Stein said. He said the work may be sold within the next few days.

(Editing by Lisa Shumaker)

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