Shaped by pioneering artists like Fernando Botero, Lygia Clark and Pablo Atchugarry, Latin American sculpture bridges regional traditions and global influences via inventive new forms
Latin American sculpture is defined by its diversity, spanning a wide range of artistic expression across South and Central America, as well as Mexico and the Caribbean. The post-war era ushered in a seismic shift, where new materials and ideas from around the world came to the region, and many Latin American artists visited vanguard centres throughout Europe.
Folk traditions mixed with modernism, radical ideas from Europe were applied to distinctly Latin American aesthetics, and a new generation of artists began to create — in everything from marble to bronze to horsehair — their own visions of the future. Below are some key points to know about collecting sculpture of the region.
Metal is always precious
At home as much in public spaces as in collections and museums, bronze sculptures are among the most valuable works from the region. The Colombian artist Fernando Botero, who shifted his focus to sculpture in 1972, is among the region’s most sought-after artists both because of his distinct, pillowy portrayals of bodies, as well as his sculptures’ installations across the world from New York to Paris to Yerevan.
Marble commands attention
No matter where they come from, works in marble are striking, especially when they take on organic forms. Pablo Atchugarry, born in Uruguay but now living in Carrara, Italy — a town once home to Michelangelo, who made his sculpture of David from the its marble — is perhaps the best-known Latin American artist working in the medium today. But others, such as the Costa Rican artists Francisco Zúñiga and Jorge Jiménez Deredia, as well as the Cuban Agustín Cárdenas often achieve high prices when their works come to auction.
Don’t overlook textiles
The mixture of folk art and modernism is a characteristic aesthetic of the Latin American sculptural tradition. Artists like Olga de Amaral wove Mondrian-esque tapestries and wall-reliefs out of wool, linen, and horsehair, while seamlessly incorporating the shimmer of gold leaf with modern materials like acrylic and gesso. This kind of work blurs the line between utilitarian and gallery objects, combining material culture with modernism.
Surrealism looms large
During the Second World War, members of the European Surrealist circle fled the continent and sought refuge in Latin America. Many of them — like Remedios Varo, Wolfgang Paalen, and Leonora Carrington — settled in Mexico, the Surrealist place par excellence in the words of André Breton. In Mexico, these artists found solace as well as creative synergies within their émigré community, which included poet Benjamin Péret, photographer Kati Horna, painter Alice Rahon, and the photojournalist Emerico “Chiki” Weisz, who married Leonora Carrington in 1946. Surrealism was not limited to Mexico however; indeed artists such as the Peruvian Tilsa Tsuchiya, Cuban-born Wifredo Lam and Chilean-born Roberto Matta were other key figures from the region.
Modernism forged its own path
In the 1950s and 60s, new ideas about how sculpture could be experienced were being formed throughout Latin America. In Brazil, artists like Hélio Oiticica, Lygia Clark, and Amilcar de Castro began to develop a visual language — which they called Constructivism — that could better express the seismic shifts of post-war society. Viewers of their works, whom they labelled ‘participants’, were expected to literally interact with the material, as in Lygia Clark’s Bichos series, wherein the artist attached pieces of metal with freely moving hinges.
Elsewhere in the region — in Venezuela, with Jesús Rafael Soto, and Argentina, with Julio Le Parc — artists experimented with Op art. Short for Optical Art, the genre played with the perception of images and objects in space. Through both sculptures and wall-reliefs, they cast artistic purity to the wind, establishing an aesthetic for the future.
But there’s always abstraction
In the scission between the numerous movements that appeared throughout the 20th century, other artists established their niches. Sculptors like Alicia Penalba, whose bronzes seem to have elements of her native Argentina's landscape cast within them, and Abigail Varela, whose abstract Pre-Colombian bodies feel at once ancient and ahead of their time, often come to market. What at first glance may seem like pure abstraction, outside of a prescribed label, is often rooted in cultural symbolism with an eye to the future.
And playful works abound
When collecting sculpture, provocative or irreverent objects sometimes command our attention inexplicably. Whether in bronze, wood, or unexpected materials such as leather, some of the most unique works puzzle the viewer without offering obvious answers.
Sign up today
Christie’s Online Magazine delivers our best features, videos, and auction news to your inbox every week