At Latin American Art Fair, Rewards for Loyalists

At Latin American Art Fair, Rewards for Loyalists
Popularity isn’t everything. This platitude took on new meaning for collectors and dealers of Latin American art at the seventh edition of Arteamericas, which ran March 27–30 at the Miami Beach Convention Center. At a time when the art market’s trendiest sectors are facing a reckoning, the modest fair — with 52 exhibitors, down from 70 last year — offered reassurance to devotees who have not forsaken the field.

“It’s a blessing that Latin American art has not boomed like Chinese art,” Vivian Pfeiffer, a regional director for Christie’s in South Florida, told the audience at a panel Saturday titled “Latin American Art in Today’s Global and Local Art Markets.” Because prices in this steadily growing sector have not been inflated by speculation, “we don’t have that much distance to crash,” she explained, adding that collectors of Latin American art tend to be motivated by passion and are reluctant to sell even in hard times.

Many of the dealers ARTINFO spoke to at the fair echoed those observations, including Ramón Cernuda of Miami’s Cernuda Arte, which specializes in Cuban art, and Janda Wetherington of Dallas- and Miami-based Pan American Art Projects. Both galleries mounted expansive displays ranging from museum-worthy masters to up-and-coming talents that attracted the attention of collectors, many of whom were on their way down to the tenth Havana Biennial, which also opened March 27. Cernuda noted a growing interest in Cuban art among Anglo collectors in and beyond Miami, and he speculated that this has to do with the loosening of the state-controlled Cuban art market, where galleries are still state run but artists are treated as independent workers who can deal directly to international clients (the new arrangement is modeled on the economic reforms that opened up China and Vietnam to capitalism.)

Both Cernuda and Wetherington reported sales of works by René Portocarrero — a leading light among the second generation of the Cuban Vanguardia, a group of artists influenced by modernist trends in Europe. On opening night, Miami collectors snatched up his 1982 Woman with Birds for $40,000 from Pan American and the 1945 canvas Sorcerer from the show in Cernuda’s booth for $135,000, the highest sale price recorded at the fair.

Miami galleries appeared to dominate this edition, with a number of foreign exhibitors hailing from nine countries in Latin America (as well as Germany and Spain). While none could have expected to sell out their booths in the current economic climate, exhibitors reported mixed results.

Nestor Zonana of Pabellón 4 Arte Contemporaneo in Buenos Aires sold stop-motion videos from 2006–08 by Argentine Javier Bilatz ($1,800 and $2,500, in editions of 3) to new clients from Mexico and London. Yet Zonana was unsure whether he would return to Arteamericas for a fifth time next year: “In this moment, I want to go to fairs of contemporary art, not Latin American.” He was disappointed to find the works at this edition less contemporary and more conservative than in prior years, and he was wary of the Latin American label as “a trap” that could limit his artists’ exposure to a specialized clientele. The relative stability of outsider status notwithstanding, some aspirants will always strive to belong to the “in crowd.”