In an interesting turnaround this auction season, Wifredo Lam and his 20th-century contemporaries weren’t the focus for Cuban art. Instead, contemporary Cuban art took the spotlight, turning in solid results and setting impressive new records.
The season began with a notable sale for Carmen Herrera in the Phillips international contemporary sale. Her 1956 canvas, Untitled (Orange and Black), estimated at $700,000–$1,000,000, hit $1,179,000, a new record for the artist at auction. (All prices include buyer’s premium.)
In this week’s Latin American sales, Roberto Fabelo leaped into a new price range with the Tuesday evening sale of Ovo, a diptych painted in 2014, at Christie’s. Had it simply met its high estimate of $180,000, the sale would have set a new record for the artist, but it zoomed to $250,000.
Earlier that day at Phillips, Alexandre Arrechea’s Sherry Netherlands sculpture, 2012–13, more than doubled its high bid of $30,000 to fetch $62,500. At Sotheby’s contemporary day sale, Serie Structure, 2017, a stainless steel work by The-Merger, rocketed past its high estimate of $60,000 to reach $187,500.
Tomás Sánchez also realized strong results with his 2017 canvas, A veces la gracia parece una cascada, the lead-off lot in Christie’s Latin American evening sale. Carrying a high estimate of $80,000, it reached $143,750. A second Sánchez lot in the Christie’s sale, El otro en el canal interior, 2017, also surpassed its $80,000 high estimate—although less dramatically—at $93,750.
Continuing on Wednesday morning, Christie’s Latin American sale saw El rostro del agua, a 2010 work by Manuel Mendive, hit $75,000, well above its high estimate of $40,000.
Among 20th-century artists in the Christie’s sale, the 1941 canvas Mujer con gallo by Mariano Rodríguez performed above its high estimate, reaching $372,500. At Phillips, Mario Carreño’s 1952 oil-and-stucco Geométrico sold for $137,500, above its $120,000 high estimate.
Other lots did not fare as well. El Jardín, a 1943 work by Amelia Peláez estimated at $400,000–$600,000 in Sotheby’s Latin American sale, sold at $375,000. And after the record-breaking sale at Phillips, Carmen Herrera’s 1952 black-and-white canvas Diagonal, estimated at $500,000–$700,000, failed to sell.
Overall, said Cuban Art News publisher and art collector Howard Farber, the Latin American sales were uneven at best. “The market took a pause,” was his assessment. “But contemporary Cuban art is slowly gaining strength, and in some cases—like the Roberto Fabelo—it’s making some real leaps forward.”