Snow white smoking nude sets Latam sculpture record

NEW YORK (Reuters) - A snow white sculpture of a voluptuous nude daintily holding a cigarette fetched $1.6 million at Christie’s Latin American art auction on Monday, a record for a sculpture by Colombia’s Fernando Botero.

With 86 percent of 76 lots of Latin American art finding buyers, Christie’s said the evening auction showed the resurgence of international interest for Latin American art.

The auction fetched a total of $21.7 million, the second best ever for auctioned Latin American art, close to the $22 million record Christie’s said it set at last May’s auction.

In Monday’s sale, 12 artists fetched record prices, notably the $1.27 million for Mexican-based Spanish surrealist Remedios Varo’s 1959 work “Exploring the sources of the Orinoco River.”

It portrays a slim elegant woman in a trench coat floating in a winged pod towards an goblet spouting arcs of water.

The work set off the auction’s most hectic bidding, soaring past the $400,000 minimum reserve price.

Another female artist drawing a record was the late Cuban Amelia Pelaez whose 1945 work “The Garden,” sold for $457,000.

A gouache on paper, its energetic curves trace an arabesque of bright jewel-like colors portraying the lush tropical garden of her family’s backyard in Havana.

“This is a record sale for woman artists,” said Virgilio Garza, head of Christie’s Latin American art department, In July, he said another Mexican surrealist, British-born Leonora Carrington, fetched a record of about $650,000 at Christie’s.

“Woman artists are very well regarded in Latin America,” he said, with Frida Kahlo the most valued Latin American artist.

Some Kahlos easily fetch $10 million privately, he said.

Another auction feature was the comeback of artists from the heavily Indian southern Mexican state of Oaxaca, including Rufino Tamayo, Francisco Toledo and Rodolfo Morales.

“I think there is a new appreciation for people willing to spend bigger amounts for their work .... They (Oaxacan artists) do share a passion for color. Tamayo is the master colorist, Toledo is a superb draftsman and painter and Rodolfo Morales is ... the Oaxacan Chagall (with) airy, dreamy (scenes).”

Overall, the artist commanding the highest sums was Botero, whose works fetched more than $5.3 million.

The $1.6 million record high for his sculpture was for “Smoking Woman.” The woman figure is lying on her stomach, propped up by crossed arms, unabashedly revealing her plump breasts and playfully kicking up a leg

The 1986 work was chiseled from white marble from quarries near the artist’s studio in Pietrasanta, Italy, where Michelangelo and Donatello came in search of the perfect stone, Christie’s said in its catalog description. (Editing by Philip Barbara)