High hopes for Latin American art auction amid buoyant market

NEW YORK Mon May 27, 2013 6:44pm EDT

1 of 5. Fernando Botero's 'Dancers' is photographed by a passer-by as it sits in front of Christie's Auction House in New York, May 27, 2013.

Credit: Reuters/Carlo Allegri

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NEW YORK (Reuters) - Art experts are hoping strong interest from Asian buyers and a buoyant market, sparked by a record-breaking sale of contemporary art earlier this month, will boost two Latin American auctions in New York this week.

A bronze sculpture of a dancing couple by Colombian Fernando Botero and paintings by Mexican Alfredo Ramos Martinez, Chilean Roberto Matta and Brazilian Candido Portinari are expected to be the highlights of the sales at Christie's and Sotheby's.

Earlier this month the auction houses had blockbuster sales of Impressionist and contemporary art. Christie's contemporary art sale on May 15 hauled in $495 million - the highest of any art auction ever.

"Obviously the contemporary art sale was on a historical scale," said Virgilio Garza, Christie's Latin American art chief. "So we hope we continue with the level of energy that the market has."

Christie's estimates $24 million to $34 million in total Latin American sales on Wednesday and Thursday. If the upper limit is reached, it will top the peak of the auction house's sale of the region's art, set at $33.7 million in May 2008, months before the Wall Street crash.

Sotheby's expects about $20.7 million to $28.7 million in Latin American art sales on Tuesday and Wednesday.

"We saw $1.5 billion in Impressionist and contemporary art sold in barely two weeks in New York (this month)," said Axel Stein, Latin American art chief at Sotheby's. "That doesn't mean necessarily that manna will a rain on us directly, but it almost assures we won't have just normal or negative sales."

Top-priced works at each auction house include paintings by the late Ramos Martinez, whose art was collected by Hollywood luminaries after he moved to Los Angeles to find expert medical care for his daughter. Christie's see his circa 1930 work "Mujeres con Frutas" (Women with Fruit) fetching $1 million to $1.5 million.

Sotheby's has a pre-sale estimate of up to $1 million for his "La India de Floripondios," (Indian Woman with Daturas). In the painting with its trumpet-shaped flowers, Ramos Martinez evokes French painter Paul Cezanne's use of circles, cylinders and cones to create a composition, according to Stein.

The artist reserves flowing lines in the work for the woman's smooth brown face, framed by braided black hair.

Overall, both auction houses expect Asian demand to be a driver of the sales, following the May 23-26 Art Basel Hong Kong art fair where the Swiss Galerie Gmurzynska said it sold $3.5 million worth of Boteros, including $1.3 million for the 2012 painting "Quarteto," which went to a collector form Malaysia.

Christie's is offering Botero's 2000 bronze "Dancers," which could fetch up to $1 million. It portrays a heavily muscled nude man and woman, her left hand on his right shoulder.

Sotheby's single highest-priced lot is Matta's circa 1939 oil on canvas "Morphologie Psycologique," (Psychological Morphology). Among its innovative techniques is drip painting, prefiguring a technique used by American Jackson Pollock, who was a student of Matta's in New York in the 1940s.

Portinari's 1941 oil on canvas "Meninos Soltando Pipas" (Children Releasing Kites)," is expected to be the top-priced Brazilian art work. Christie's estimates it will sell for up to $1.2 million.

The painting was done during a stage of Portinari's career, in the late 1930s and early 1940s, that showed children playing leap frog or chasing kites and balloons, according to Christie's.

(Reporting by Walker Simon; Editing by Patricia Reaney and Bill Trott)

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