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Under the leadership of Virgilio Garza, Christie’s Latin American department has witnessed numerous landmarks, including establishing the world auction record for a Latin American work of art. It has also set records for Rufino Tamayo, Fernando Botero, Alfredo Ramos Martínez and Leonora Carrington, among many others. The head of department recently sat down with Libby Addington to discuss a defining moment in his career and one of the most visionary Latin American artists of the 20th century.
How did you become involved in art?
I would actually say that art found me. Growing up, my first loves were literature and theater, but in college, I took a survey course in art history that completely changed my focus. I discovered I had a very good visual memory, which fostered a real passion for art history. Prior to joining Christie’s in December 2004, I obtained my graduate degree in Curatorial Studies from Bard College in New York, and worked as a gallery director in New York and as a curator for the Museo de Monterrey in my hometown, Monterrey.
What is your first memorable art-related experience?
I vividly recall attending an exhibition of the precocious young Mexican artist Julio Galán at the now closed Museo de Monterrey in 1987, right out of college. The museum was located in an old brewery (eventually, I would work there) and the show—only something like 20 works total— was an incredible display of Galán’s raw talent. This was the first time I remember feeling such a connection to art—that I felt it speaking to me. There was something so new, urgent and relevant in those pictures that I felt in seeing them that I had discovered something about myself.
What do today’s collectors find so fascinating about Latin American art?
Because Latin American art is multifarious—encompassing diverse regions, periods, and styles—there is something to appeal to every collector. Despite this being a relatively young collecting category, we have seen that our demographic has changed dramatically, even in the last five years. It used to be that if you had a painting by a Brazilian artist, for example, the natural market would be your pool of Brazilian clients. But today we are seeing an increased number of private and institutional buyers outside of Latin America—a phenomenon that speaks to the international appeal of this collecting area.
You have a number of works by Chilean artist Matta In your November sale. What can you tell us about the two you have here?
To me, Matta was a true visionary. His works blend the physical and metaphysical worlds seamlessly, and possess a consistently humanistic element—they speak of man with a capital “M.” Matta’s sources of inspiration ranged from literature and science to Western philosophy, all of which converged in gorgeous paintings that are both mysterious and lyrical, and this comes across beautifully in Crucisphere. All of the works by Matta in our November auction are exquisite, and with estimates starting at $7,000 there are quality examples available at every level. This month we have an exceptional selection of works from the 1940s. Crucisphere was part of the MoMA retrospective that William Rubin organized in 1957, and it is now appearing at auction for the first time.
You formerly worked as a curator. How do you approach curating a sale of Latin American art?
Art is, of course, a cultural product and Latin America comprises many regions and cultures. My team strives to offer a balanced selection of art that is in essence a microcosm of Latin America—its richness, its complexity, and its breadth. Although we make curatorial decisions every day, I am more comfortable thinking of myself as a storyteller. Organizing geographies and timelines is a challenge but a welcome one. The market ebbs and flows but the story remains compelling and worth recounting.
Latin American Art