In 2021, the work “Diego and I” (an oil on panel measuring only 30x22cm, from 1949) by Mexican artist Frida Khalo, broke the sales record for Latin American art when it was auctioned in New York for 34.8 million dollars, which is how much the Argentine Eduardo F. Costantini – founder of the MALBA museum in Buenos Aires – paid for his personal collection.
The price of an earlier work by Frida Khalo, “Self-Portrait with Curly Hair” (of a similar size and period), was auctioned in 2003 at $1.2 million. What happened in less than 20 years for a work by Frida Khalo to increase its value by 3000%?
How is the Latin American contemporary art market country by country? Who are the most sought-after artists? Who are the most important collectors, galleries, fairs, museums, foundations, specialized magazines and auction houses?
There are currently about 25 artists in Latin America who have exceeded one million dollars per work, thus managing to position their works with a high standard of values and, perhaps above all, regularly.
This is explained by the fact that the works of these artists enter a value circuit, i.e. a process in which various factors intervene which enhance and interact with each other, transferring both commercial and symbolic value to the works of art.
These factors are the recognition of the artist. If the work is by a recognized artist who is popular in his country of origin, as well as internationally, and his image is widely publicized and, in turn, his works have been acquired by major museums and collections, that work will have a value placed in the market.
The quality of the work is also crucial. Certainly an aesthetically well-made work, regardless of tastes and styles, will be more commercial than weaker ones. The determination of this quality is not entirely subjective, it is conditioned by the confluence of opinions among the various actors and agents of the art industry. If critics, curators, collectors, prestigious gallery owners and auction houses agree on the aesthetic importance of a work, we are in the presence of a quality work.
Another factor is the time of work. If that work belongs to the artist’s most significant period, which is usually the one in which his “discovery” takes place, the appearance of his imprint, his singularity and is recognized as typical of his “style”, these works will have generally higher prices. compared to the works of later periods.
Exhibitions and publications also play a role. If the work has been exhibited in important museums, is included in catalogs and books, those works that are more “travelled” and “illustrated” will have a higher value.
Format and professionalism
Also, the format matters. Although the size of the work is often proportional to the price, it is an element that tends to retreat. In recent years, the market rewards quality more than the cm2 of a work, but it is still an element that affects prices.
On the other hand, protection against counterfeiting is important. If the artist has a catalog raisonné, that is a detailed register of his work, it will be very difficult to forge it. Here the work of the foundations is of vital importance. The certificates of authenticity and the origin of the work (to which it previously belonged), are essential for determining the price.
Furthermore, the professionalism of the gallery owner who represents him is fundamental. If the gallery owner who represents the work of an artist carries out dedicated, meticulous and persistent management over time, and in this way manages to place the artist in important museum exhibitions, prepare strong catalogues, disseminate his work in the press and convince a collector based on the quality of the work and its demand, the price of these works will give a qualitative and quantitative leap.
Today there are many artists who represent themselves or their relatives, which is a double-edged sword. On the one hand, they save the gallery owner’s commission, which fluctuates between 30% and 50%. But on the other hand, professionalism is lost, as sales and cultural management skills are generally lacking.
Finally, placement in auction houses is relevant. If an artist’s work has not been on the auction market, we will not know the demand for it, its price index and value will be speculative. If, on the other hand, your work has often been auctioned, and there is regularity in the information on its prices, a virtuous circuit of value will be generated.
However, there must be a constant demand, a continuous offer for your work, because if this is not the case and in auctions your works appear as “unsold” and/or the value of the estimate in the final auction price goes down, it will appear to the market as a low-priced artist. And on stage it is difficult to recover, although not impossible.
The contemporary art market in Latin America
There are many experts who agree that although the prices of Latin American art are still quite low compared to other markets (US, Europe and Asia), there is still a long way to go and good investment opportunities.
Latin America occupies only 4% of the world art market. However, 2021 alone had a sales volume of more than $4 billion. And an average return of 16%, thus making up for the decline in the years of the pandemic.
There is a permanent debate on the concept of “contemporary”, some establish it in works after 1945 and others in relation to styles that have gone beyond costumbrismo and figuration, such as surrealism, constructivist abstraction, the informal, etc. . We will cover a broader view, meaning “contemporaries” are artists who, regardless of their styles, lived after 1945 and up to the present.
To draw up a ranking of the most sought-after Latin American artists, we will base ourselves on the indices of the secondary market, ie public auctions. Since the primary market; galleries, fairs and private sales, he is usually rather cryptic and hermetic when it comes to communicating prices. Auction houses, on the other hand, in addition to making transactions transparent, formalize the business relationship and establish the meeting points between supply and demand, thus avoiding speculation.
There are several companies and institutions analyzing art market data globally: Art Basel UBS, Artactic, ValueMyStuff, Deloite, Mutualart, The Bear Faxt and Artsy, among others, with ArtPrice being one of the most relevant indicators.
The reports from specialized magazines, on the other hand, shed light on market activity, not only on prices, but also on critics and curators, museum exhibitions, fairs and galleries that give us an overview of the art industry. Among the most outstanding we find; Art Nexus, Art Forum, Informed Art, Artemisa, Artishock, Arte al Día, Contemporary and Latin America, Magenta, Index, Sismo and Arte Al Límite. Very important sites like Latam Art and Arstper among others are also revitalizing the art scene. And finally there are non-specialized media but always attentive to artistic activity, such as Forbes and the Spanish newspaper El País.
We should note that the highest auction price of a work does not necessarily determine an artist’s average selling price, nor its volume, however it is an objective fact and an index to consider.
Next, a breakdown of each country’s industry and its dynamics, on prices and values of Latin American art, here.
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