Latin American Art
The evolution of categories within auction houses: Latin American Art
Marina Dias Teixeira
1 May 2020, 10 am
Since 2005, SP-Arte has been consolidating itself every year as one of the main fairs in Latin America, promoting the culture and visual arts of the region. At the event, Latin American Art is brought to the fore by galleries of the primary market, bringing out the best in contemporary production, as well as exhibitors of the secondary market, which feature a careful selection of exponents from the modern period.
In this second interview from the series that investigates the role of auctions in the art market, we spoke with Anna Di Stasi, Latin American Art Director at Sotheby’s, one of the most traditional houses in the field. Anna shares some highlights in the history of the Latin American Art market since its first dedicated auctions in the 1970s, and traces the path that led the category to emancipate itself from a regional connotation and reach the same recognition of the great modern and contemporary international artists.
How was the evolution of Latin American Art at Sotheby’s over the years?
Anna Di Stasi: It’s been an exciting couple of years at Sotheby’s as it relates to Latin American Art. Back in 2018, after years of internal discussions, we made the proactive decision to fully integrate Latin American Art into our Impressionist/Modern and Contemporary Art sales. As the first auction house to launch dedicated Latin American Art auctions in 1977, we realized that while initially successful, a regional approach to the category no longer reflected the evolving taste of collectors worldwide.
Our decision to integrate Latin American Art not only into our marquee sales in May and November but throughout the auction calendar in New York, London, and Paris in both live and online sales, allows us to engage with an increasingly broad group of clients, many of whom collect across categories at every segment of the market. This pioneering approach reinforces key connections between artists from Latin America and their European and North American counterparts—a strategy similarly adopted by major institutions such as MoMA, as they reconfigure the presentation of their permanent collection of Latin American Art in the 21st Century.
Could you share a memorable episode in the history of the category within big auction houses?
ADS: I have been lucky to witness some very memorable events in my twenty year career in the art market – from participating in the first Latin American Art auction conducted in Paris in 2004 and the extraordinary sale of The Lorenzo H. Zambrano Collection, the most successful single-owner Latin American Art collection to come to market, to selling the first painting by Rufino Tamayo above $5 million in an Impressionist and Modern Art Evening sale in May 2018. The category has experienced enormous growth in the last decades, as we have achieved world auction records for a myriad of artists including: Mira Schendel, Sergio Camargo, Emiliano Di Cavalcanti, Beatriz Milhazes, Jesus Rafael Soto, Carlos Cruz-Diez, Francisco Toledo, Wifredo Lam, among others… However, beyond the thrill of realizing these outstanding prices, it truly brings me enormous pride to introduce and promote the richness of Latin American Art to a global audience eager to discover new talent.
In your experience, which pieces achieved unexpected sales records at auction?
ADS: Every season, there are a few works that definitely surprise us. Sometimes, these works are historical in nature and extremely rare to come to auction. At other times, they represent some of the best examples by the artist and have been in private collections for many decades. One particular recent example was Tamayo’s Parícutin, which sold for $4 million against an estimate of $1.3/1.8 million in November 2018. While we knew the work would do well, no one anticipated achieving this result, which today stands as the highest record for a Latin American landscape sold at auction. Likewise, works of exquisite quality belonging to a period of limited production always do very well at auction. An amazing example was Miguel Covarrubias’ The Tree of Modern Art, which achieved $312,500 against an estimate of $100/150,000, also in November 2018. Most recently, works by women artists are performing extremely well, such as those by Alice Rahon, Olga de Amaral and of course, Carmen Herrera.
What are your personal highlights for pieces belonging to the category?
ADS: My personal highlights vary every season. Sometimes they are defined by their rarity and exceptional quality, but they are certainly not always the highest priced works. I often find myself drawn to small scale intimate compositions on paper and early or minimal abstraction. I am particularly fond of works produced by women artists in the 60s and 70s, as they reveal extremely personal and radical approaches to art making, feminism and its relationship to the body.
What are the challenges of the category within the art market?
ADS: Latin American Art has very specific challenges that are particularly unique to the category. The overwhelming lack of galleries dedicated to the secondary market in the region is one that surprises most collectors entering the field; punishing taxation imposed on fine art and excessive national patrimony regulations also make it difficult to trade highly desirable works.
How is the performance of the category in online auctions?
ADS: As our online auction platform continues to expand and become more central to our business, online results for Latin American Art have also increased significantly. Given the ongoing pandemic, we have found that while our live sales are temporarily disrupted, a growing and wider international audience is eager to transact through online venues and has become progressively comfortable engaging in the acquisition of higher priced works without seeing them in person. We have closed 31 online sales thus far in 2020, with many currently live and/or upcoming in the calendar. Those sales together have raised more than $50 million, and growing daily. That $50 million figure is up significantly in volume and value over the same period in 2019. It also reflects a 67% increase in the average price achieved per lot. Since March 1 alone, we have had 21 online sales, which have raised $40 million and counting. A number of those sales were previously scheduled as live auctions, and were successfully converted to the online sales format. We are very excited about the online results obtained so far and look forward to our first ever Online Day Sales in early May.
Would you pick a work available on SP-Arte 365?
ADS: Only one? Left to my own devices, I’d pick more than that! I have great respect and admiration for many of the galleries that exhibit at SP-Arte. Their programming and commitment to the field is truly unparalleled in Latin America. In this particular edition, I would pick works by Feliciano Centurion, a Rubem Valentim, Emblema 5 (1973) at Mendes Wood, a rare Wanda Pimentel, Untitled (1968) at Ronie Mesquita Galeria, a Carmelo Arden Quin, Cubismeria (1947) at Simoes de Assis, and a marvelous painting by Flavio de Carvalho at Almeida e Dale Galeria de Arte.
Flávio de Carvalho
Oil on canvas
Painting: 67 x 73 x 5 cm
About Anna Di Stasi
As Director of Latin American Art at Sotheby’s, Anna Di Stasi heads the integration of Latin American Art into the firm’s Impressionist and Modern Art and Contemporary Art auctions. In this capacity, she contributes to Sotheby’s leadership in the category by securing key estates and consignments throughout the region, developing emerging markets and managing key client relationships throughout the United States and abroad.
Based in New York, Mrs. Di Stasi started her career in 2000 at Christie’s as a Specialist in the Latin American Paintings Department where she was responsible for researching, valuing and promoting works of art for sale. She holds a Master of Arts in Art History from New York University, Institute of Fine Arts, a second Master of Arts on Connoisseurship and the Art Market from Christie’s Education and a Bachelor of Arts in Art History and Psychology from Boston College. She is a member of ArtTable and is certified in Uniform Standards of Professional Appraisal Practice (USPAP) by the Appraisers Association of America. Raised in Madrid, Mexico City and Miami, she is fluent in English and Spanish, literate in Portuguese and French.