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Latin soul — An interview with designer Juan Montoya

Colombian-born, New York-based designer Juan Montoya talks to Gemma Sudlow about his passion for Latin American art, decorating for Botero and his favourite pieces from our upcoming sales in New York and London

Juan Montoya’s Upper East Side offices provide insights into the output of his studio. The designer’s desk, in a rich Macassar ebony from the 1930s, is dotted with his own geometric bronze lamps. The wall behind is dominated by an over-scale work by Blackner juxtaposed by a Yoruba mask perched alongside an assortment of pots and other sculptural objets.

‘Give me your dreams,’ he likes to say, ‘and I will make them happen.’ So, ahead of three Christie’s auctions of Latin American art and sculpture, we asked Montoya to share his insights into some of the works on offer, and to explain how they inspire him.

Interior by Juan Montoya. Photograph by Ken Hayden
Interior by Juan Montoya. Photograph by Ken Hayden

Mathias Goeritz

Juan Montoya: I adore this gold work by Goeritz. I’m attracted first and foremost to the medium here — like the shimmering gold works of Olga de Amaral, we are drawn to the texture, to a sense of depth and form created by the medium above all else. No matter the scale, this textural aspect creates the allure. 

Mathias Goeritz (1915-1990), Mensaje LXXX, circa 1964. Perforated sheet metal on painted wood, 41¼ x 41¼ x ½ in (104.8 x 104.8 x 1.3 cm). Estimate $100,000-150,000. This lot is offered in Latin American Art on 22-23 November 2016 at Christie’s in New York, Rockefeller Plaza

Mathias Goeritz (1915-1990), Mensaje LXXX, circa 1964. Perforated sheet metal on painted wood, 41¼ x 41¼ x ½ in (104.8 x 104.8 x 1.3 cm). Estimate: $100,000-150,000. This lot is offered in Latin American Art on 22-23 November 2016 at Christie’s in New York, Rockefeller Plaza

This is a work you are drawn towards, so I would use it in an interior by placing it at the end of a corridor, or at the top of some steps — the kind of spaces where a work like this could have the most impact. Equally, the strong simplicity of the textured gold ground could create a focal point or contemplative pause within a more densely hung wall of paintings — it would speak powerfully in either context.

Mario Carreño

JM: I love the work of Carreño, and I’m fortunate enough to own a few of his sepia ink drawings. Informing his compositions is an extraordinary sense of line and colour. 

Mario Carreño (1913-1999), Mujeres y Corales, 1945. Oil on canvas, 29⅜ x 35½ in (74.6 x 90.2 cm). Estimate $250,000-350,000. This lot is offered in Latin American Art on 22-23 November 2016 at Christie’s in New York, Rockefeller Plaza

Mario Carreño (1913-1999), Mujeres y Corales, 1945. Oil on canvas, 29⅜ x 35½ in (74.6 x 90.2 cm). Estimate: $250,000-350,000. This lot is offered in Latin American Art on 22-23 November 2016 at Christie’s in New York, Rockefeller Plaza

This work, though reasonably modest in scale, expresses something monumental through the figures. Despite their obvious modernity and figurative abstraction, there’s a processional quality to them that gives a sense of purpose equivalent to a grand history painting in the Salon tradition.

Rufino Tamayo

JM: I bought the drawing below in Florida many years ago and have decided now is the right time to let it go to auction to inspire a new collector. When I saw it for the first time it was in a crowded gallery among religious Old Master works from the 17th and 18th centuries. I fell in love straight away with the simplicity of the face and the form of the hat — the plain single lines and small touch of colour that bring that form to life. 

Rufino Tamayo (Mexican, 1899-1991), Hombre con Sombrero. Pencil and colored pencil on paper, 13¼ x 9¾ in (33.7 x 24.8 cm). Estimate $8,000-12,000. This lot is offered in Living with Art on 2-3 December 2016 at Christie’s in New York, Rockefeller Plaza

Rufino Tamayo (Mexican, 1899-1991), Hombre con Sombrero. Pencil and colored pencil on paper, 13¼ x 9¾ in (33.7 x 24.8 cm). Estimate: $8,000-12,000. This lot is offered in Living with Art on 2-3 December 2016 at Christie’s in New York, Rockefeller Plaza

Photograph by Michael Moran. Art © Tamayo HeirsMexicoLicensed by VAGA, New York, NY
Photograph by Michael Moran. Art © Tamayo Heirs/Mexico/Licensed by VAGA, New York, NY

Rufino Tamayo had an extraordinary palette — he reflected the colour and the light in Mexico so brilliantly in his paintings. Yet even in this little drawing you find his artistic force and the dynamism of his Mexican spirit pared down and encapsulated in a few simple lines.

Fernando Botero

JM: When I first came to New York from Colombia in the 1980s, I got a call from the Marlborough Galleries who were looking after an artist who wanted to meet me. I was just starting out and had nothing to lose so I accepted the invitation, without knowing who or what to expect. When I got to the uptown Park Avenue address I was astonished to find it was Botero, who had just purchased his New York apartment and needed my advice on decoration. 

Fernando Botero (b.  1932), Mujer Sentada (Seated Woman), conceived in 1981. Bronze with dark brown patina, 16¾ in (42.5 cm) high. Estimate £120,000-150,000. This lot is offered in From Ancient To Modern A Distinguished Private Collection on 7 December 2016 at Christie’s in London, King Street

Fernando Botero (b. 1932), Mujer Sentada (Seated Woman), conceived in 1981. Bronze with dark brown patina, 16¾ in (42.5 cm) high. Estimate: £120,000-150,000. This lot is offered in From Ancient To Modern: A Distinguished Private Collection on 7 December 2016 at Christie’s in London, King Street

He wanted my thoughts straight away, so I took a moment and looked at the apartment. ‘The windows will have to change,’ I told him, ‘and we need a colour that will be a perfect background for your art. The entrance must be a focal point — we can create a gallery.’ I was hired. From then on we became friends and he wrote the foreword to my first book in 1988.

I have often had the chance to watch him as he works. He would have three or four easels lined up at any one time, working from one to the next — such extraordinary talent to work on multiple canvases at once! And yet it’s his sculpture that I find most impressive. This small-scale bronze has an incredible and expressive life force that I love. Botero’s signature voluptuousness brings a totally pure sense of joy and happiness.

Interior by Juan Montoya. Copyright of Botero. Reproduced by Permission

Interior by Juan Montoya. Copyright of Botero. Reproduced by Permission

What's next? 

JM: I always have new dream projects that I aspire to. I would love to do a hotel because I love spaces where people interact and communicate. I’ve done a plane and I've done a boat or two and now I would love to do a chapel or a church — Matisse did one, so why not me? Whatever else happens, I want to keep feeling inspired and to keep observing the world. I love what I do.

Juan Montoya’s furniture range retails with Biasi & Co