Chile, Mexico artists lead Latin American art sale in New York

NEW YORK Tue Nov 20, 2012 11:02am EST

NEW YORK Nov 20 (Reuters) - A rare, life-size, anonymous portrait of Aztec emperor Moctezuma II and a ground-breaking surrealist painting by Chilean artist Roberto Matta were among the top-selling works at a Latin American art auction at Sotheby's.

The Monday evening sale also set records, at prices above $1 million each, for Mexican landscape artist Gerardo Murillo, Chilean Claudio Bravo and pioneering Venezuelan kinetic sculptor Jesus Rafael Soto.

"This evening sale demonstrates the demand for Latin American art across all periods and mediums," said Axel Stein, director of Latin American art at Sotheby's.

The $19.3 million in art sold included works drawn from four centuries.

"Portrait of Moctezuma II," which was painted in the late 17th century sold for $1.65 million, a record for Latin American colonial art, Sotheby's said. The only other colonial work of the same scale and subject is in a museum in Italy, Stein said.

Moctezuma II was an Aztec chieftain killed by Spanish conquistadors. The portrait shows him as melancholy, his head downcast. But Sotheby's said X-ray images reveal it originally depicted him with his head erect, with a more assured expression, that was later modified.

Matta's 1943 "Nada" (Nothingness) fetched $1.82 million. The work includes plant-like forms that hurl outward with their stems ringed by sloping rays. A butterfly-like shape ejects multicolored beams.

"Matta opened a whole new world. He was as interested in what was going on inside matter as he was in cosmic realities," said Stein. "No surrealist had ever gone there because surrealism had been about how the mind works and what happens in dreams."

Another highlight of the sale was a sweeping 1942 landscape, "Manana Luminosa" (Luminous Morning), by Murillo. It sold for $1.65 million, setting a record for the artist better known as Dr. Atl.

At 10-feet (3-meters) wide, "Manana Luminosa" is one of his largest landscapes. It shows a semi-arid plateau, framed by craggy rocks up close and snowcapped volcanoes in the distance.

"Angelis," by Claudio Bravo, who died last year, fetched a record for the artist's work at $1.51 million. The 1999 painting resembles high-resolution photographs and is a study of drapes tied in a loose knot. Folds, pleats and wrinkles are depicted in minute detail.

Venezuelan Jesus Rafael Soto's 1960 sculpture "La Scie a Metaux (The Hacksaw)," also sold for more than $1 million. Made of paint, plaster and metal on hardboard, it is an early example of kinetic art, in which even a slight change in viewing position creates a perception of vibration.

The $638,500 sale of 1971 "Recticularea Cuadrada" (Squared Rectangular Area) set an auction record for Venezuelan abstract sculptor Gertrude Goldschmidt, known as Gego. The work is a bent grid made of stainless steel and iron.