Specialist Virgilio Garza introduces five artists who have shaped the region’s art history, as seen at Christie’s Latin American Art sale in May 2015
‘Fernando Botero is the great Colombian master,’ says Christie’s specialist Virgilio Garza. Born in Medellín in 1932, Botero had little access to cultural institutions in his youth, finding artistic inspiration, instead, in the Baroque-style colonial churches and street life of his native city.
In 1952, Botero left Colombia, moving through Spain with a group of artists before coming to rest in Paris. There, he would spend hours in the Louvre, studying works by Renaissance masters — an interest that he later pursued in Florence, where he lived from 1953-54.
Today the artist divides his time between Italy, New York, Paris and Colombia, his work displaying both European and Latin American influences. Botero pointedly returns to his hometown for a month each year, and has famously described himself as ‘the most Colombian of Colombian artists.’
‘Since the late 1950s, he has been developing a world populated by unique characters, exploring, not only formal concerns such as volume and form, but also European art history — from still life, nudes, landscapes and sculptural traditions,’ comments Garza.
Instantly recognisable, his plump style has been termed ‘Boterismo’, and is used to depict a cast of stock characters: ‘Botero has always been interested in types: the politician, the nun, the prostitute, the mother, the priest, the roles of men and women,’ Garza adds.
For Garza, these fleshy subjects aren’t cruel caricatures, but ‘loving’ portraits. Despite this, Garza admits Botero can be ‘satirical, with a political edge; he doesn’t shy away from topical subjects, producing paintings that address drug wars and violence in Colombia, as well as global politics’.
‘Carreño was one of the great Cuban modernists,’ says Garza. Born in 1913 in Havana, the artist’s early works oozed the heat and colour of the Caribbean, depicting figures set against Surrealist landscapes.
‘Also known as The Blue Bird, El Azulejo is a fantastic work, depicting a man and woman — one clothed, the other nude — holding a bird and its cage against a barren landscape,’ Garza comments. ‘It’s a dream-like scene, implying a narrative that is never quite clear: is the bird being contained or liberated?’
Painted in 1940, El Azulejo precludes Carreño’s predominantly abstract phase, begun in 1950. ‘Though he never abandoned the figure completely, his later works differed from earlier paintings,’ Garza explains. ‘This sale features several works from across his career, many of which will be a delight for collectors of Cuban art from the 1930s and ’40s.’
Born in Rio de Janeiro in 1948, Cildo Meireles is a conceptual artist whose large-scale sculptures and installations transform everyday objects into politically charged works of art.
At the age of just ‘seven or eight’, an encounter with an impoverished man in the Brazilian countryside left him convinced of the importance of making and leaving things for others. Meireles met the man as he was leaving a wooded area, later discovering the man had left behind him a ‘perfect hut’ — an object the artist described as ‘perhaps the most decisive thing for the path [he] followed in life’.
Meireles has since gained international renown for works such as Insertions into Ideological Circuits which saw the artist remove Coca Cola bottles and currency from circulation, subtly modifying them before reintroducing them into the market. Altered objects featured critical political statements, the artist describing the project as a ‘kind of mobile graffiti’.
‘Rodos is an installation made with found objects of the same name — a variation of the squeegees used to clean windows,’ explains Garza. Distorted and rendered functionless, the squeegees continue Meireles’ exploration of the found object as art work, whilst commenting on issues including consumption and recycling.
‘Cildo Meireles is among a select group of installation and conceptual artists who successfully merge history, politics and notions of circulation and consumption,' Garza says. ‘Today, he is regarded as one of Brazil’s greatest living artists.’
‘Cuban art collective Los Carpinteros — literally, the carpenters — has come to be well known internationally, with major projects in a number American cities,’ Garza explains.
Begun in 1991, Los Carpinteros initially comprised three artists, who adopted the name in 1994 when they decided to ‘renounce the idea of individual authorship and refer back to an older guild tradition of artisans and skilled labourers.’
In 2003, the trio became a duo, comprising Cuban-born artists Marco Antonio Castillo Valdés and Dagoberto Rodriguez Sánchez. Today, they live and work in Havana, producing pieces that seek to bridge the gap between art and society in a humorous manner.
Installations and drawings by Los Carpinteros draw upon architecture, design and sculpture, asking viewers to consider how their surrounding environment is conceived, built, used and abandoned. ‘Like Meireles,’ comments Garza, ‘they are artists who make utopian monuments, recycling mundane materials to make something quite new.’
A founding figure of Mexican modernism, Rufino Tamayo created irresistible works of enigmatic beauty that scintillate with radiant colours. At a time when Mexican modernism was synonymous with the overt politics of the Muralists such as Diego Rivera, José Clemente Orozco and David Alfaro Siqueiros, Tamayo blazed his own path, dedicating himself to the pursuit of arte puro, which privileged abstraction and painting’s formal properties over ideology. After leaving Mexico in 1926, Tamayo honed his craft first in New York and then in Paris, before returning years later to Mexico, which had always remained his true source of inspiration.
An iconic subject for the artist, Tamayo’s watermelons are depicted with an economy of forms; half circles of pink are enveloped by blurred lines of white and green that teeter on the edge of turned up table tops which defy conventional perceptions of space. In these evocative works, Tamayo transforms the sedate still-life into dynamic compositions that examine painting’s inherent principles. While these watermelon still-lifes provided a means of formalist exploration for Tamayo, the fruit also held a personal resonance for the artist who often recalled a period from his youth spent selling watermelons alongside his aunt.