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The Art Market

Latin American art’s moment in the limelight

About the author

Georgina Adam has spent more than 25 years writing about the art market and the arts in general. She is editor at large at the Art Newspaper. She writes a weekly column for the Financial Times and lectures at Sotheby's and Christie's institutes in London.

Four Bicycles (there is always one direction) by Mexican Artist Gabriel Orozco

(Getty Images)

As spectacular new museums open in Miami Beach and Mexico City, interest has never been higher in artists from the region, reports Georgina Adam.

Latin-American art will be centre stage in Miami Beach this month, as the new Pérez Art Museum Miami (PAMM) flings open its doors on 4 December in a majestic new Herzog and de Meuron-designed building on the Miami waterfront. Its inauguration coincides with the opening of the annual Art Basel Miami Beach fair, and this year with the new Brazil ArtFair, the first of its kind dedicated to Brazilian contemporary art and design.

PAMM will put a strong emphasis on Latin-American artists, but the focus doesn’t end there. Hundreds of the glamorous VIPs invited to the party-and-art fest in Miami will have hotfooted it from another major museum inauguration, that of the Jumex museum in Mexico City. This was also opened last month by the leading Mexican art collector and fruit-juice heir Eugenio López, and will display his extensive art holdings, which range from American minimalists to Mexican artists such as Gabriel Orozco and Damián Ortega, whose installation Cosmogonía doméstica stands right outside the museum.

No expense was spared in López’ $50m project, with the building designed by the guru of minimalism, British architect Sir David Chipperfield, and clad in honey-coloured travertine marble. Opposite it stands the Soumaya museum, belonging to the world’s richest man, telecoms billionaire Carlos Slim, which opened two years ago. The contrast with the elegant Jumex could not be greater: Slim’s unlovely metal-panelled structure –‘King Kong’s toilet’ as taxi drivers have dubbed it – houses an eclectic jumble of works, but with an emphasis on Mexican artists, although not contemporary ones. And yet another museum, this time for design, is also planned for the Mexican capital, while the city council has a million-dollar programme for commissioning art works for public spaces.

Private collectors such as López in Mexico or the mining billionaire Bernardo Paz, who has created Inhotim, a 3,000-acre, open-air ‘art park’ in the depths of the Brazilian countryside, are a key element in the expansion of the market for Latin-American art. They do this by supporting their national artists – Paz was even married to one, Adriana Varejão, his sixth wife (they are now divorced) – and enhancing their profile by exhibiting them in their art spaces. Paz devotes whole pavilions at Inhotim to the Brazilians Hélio Otiticia, Tunga and Cilio Meireles.

Hidden potential

In addition, London’s Tate gallery has established an acquisition group specifically for art from Latin America, while Paris’s Pompidou Centre is also targeting the region through its international committee. And because the region’s art galleries are increasingly exhibiting at fairs such as Art Basel Miami Beach, the collector base is growing. As well as local collectors following the lead of López or Paz and buying regional artists as well as international ones, there is international interest. Madonna, for instance, collects the work of the Mexican Frida Kahlo.

It is difficult to evaluate the true size of the markets in the region, however. Brazil, followed by Mexico are the two biggest countries for art sales, and a sign of Brazil’s potential is that White Cube has established a gallery in São Paulo, the first ‘mega-gallery’ to do so. But in Brazil eye-wateringly high taxes on art imports have been discouraging sales, although there is probably more being imported than the taxman knows about.

Auction results do not reflect the whole picture either, as the most popular artists – such as Fernando Botero, Ernesto Neto, Beatriz Milhazes and Varejão are sometimes not included in sales of Latin-American art, but in contemporary art sessions. In the recent round of Latin-American auctions, Sotheby’s saw a new high for the abstract Brazilian Sergio Camargo when Untitled (Relief No. 21/52) sold for over $2.1m, way over its $400,000-$600,000 pre-sale target (pre-sale estimates don’t include fees; results do). The highest auction price for any Latin-American goes to the Mexican Rufino Tamayo for his 1945 portrait Trovador, at $7.2m, although privately it is believed that works by Frida Kahlo have sold for over $10m.

While these are not small amounts, they are a fraction of those for, say, contemporary Chinese art, and this has led some investors to start looking closely at the region. An ArtTactic poll on the Latin-American market this year found that 59% of the respondents believed that the market would rise over the next six months. Particularly tipped is Colombia, with its thriving art fair and which has benefited from the political unrest in Venezuela, causing collectors to move to the safer city of Bogotá. And Tate Modern has just appointed a Colombian, José Roca, as an Adjunct Curator of Latin-American art.

Indeed, the reason Art Basel chose Miami Beach, rather than New York or Los Angeles to establish its American outpost was to get access to the Latin-American market. And this will only be reinforced in a few days, when artists from the region get greater exposure in the airy, light-filled spaces of the Pérez museum.

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