Voodoo-surrealist art, color grille lead Latam sale

NEW YORK (Reuters Life!) - A voodoo-inspired Surrealist painting by Cuban Wifredo Lam and a vibrating color grid by Venezuelan Alejandro Otero set new artist auction records at Sotheby’s Latin American art sale.

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Mexican works also sparked heated competition and set records for 19th century artists. Argentine and Brazilian artists hit new peaks for geometric mazes in wood.

“Abstraction seems to have done really well,” said Carmen Melian, Sotheby’s Latin American art chief of the $14.8 million Tuesday night auction. “The great surprise was the 19th century Mexican painters ... and the sale in part was a homage to Lam.”

The top-selling work was Lam’s “Les Abalochas Dansent pour Dhambala, dieu de l’Unite,” which fetched $2.15 million.

Populated with countless masks, worn by animal-human hybrids, the 1970 painting takes its name from a Haitian Creole word for the voodoo Dhambala serpent god.

“You see a pantheon of gods fighting for dominance, light versus dark.” said Sotheby’s Vice President Alex Stein.

Horned, shadowy spirits. eyes aglow like Halloween pumpkins, jostle with sprawling lit figures, one of them a winged horse-human female amalgamation, balanced precariously on a single hoof.

An Afro-Cuban, Lam traveled to Haiti with Surrealist founder Andre Breton. His godmother practiced santeria, a Cuban voodoo variant, steeping him in its beliefs as a boy.

The second top selling lot was Colombian Fernando Botero’s 1972 painting. “Nuestra Senora de Cajica,” selling for $872,500.

The work juxtaposes symbols of the Virgin Mary and the Garden of Eden. A corpulent Virgin offers an apple to a male infant, his hand grasping a tiny Colombian flag. A miniature cardinal, nuns, monks and priests peer from a leafy tree top. A black serpent slithers below the virgin’s shoeless toes.

“Coloritmo 9” fetched the Otero record at $752,500. The 1956 work frames gently bent bands against a green grille, to create an illusion of movement. Melian said Otero’s 50 “Coloritmo” works inspired a generation of kinetic artists.

Mexican Jose Agustin Arrieta’s, “El Requiebro” (The Compliment), painted around 1850, sold for $482,500, an artist auction record. It shows a young Mexican mother, fruit basket in hand, flinching from a drunken soldier seeking a kiss.

Going for the same price, and also an artist record, was Eugenio Landesio’s 1865 work, “Cruzando el Lago de Texcoco con Volcanes” (Crossing Lake Texcoco with Volcanoes). It contrasts the clambering poor in a crowded ferry with a sailboat bearing upper class men smoking cigars and ladies seated in comfort.

At $302,500, Edouard-Henri-Theophile Pingret set a record for “Indio Con Traje De Gala En Puesto De Comida” (Indian in Gala Dress at a Food Stand). The main figure, Melian said, is a U.S.-born Seminole Indian who wants to join Mexico’s army.

Records were also set for Argentine Luis Tomasello, whose “Atmosphere Chromoplastique N 281,” fetched $170,500 and for Brazilian Abraham Palatnik for his “Progressao-42A.” at $182,500. The first is a maze of white wooden squares; the second is a jacaranda veneer on arches set against bars.

Editing by Patricia Reaney