Chilean artist Roberto Matta tops Latin America art auction

“La revolte des contraires” fetched US$5 million in Christie’s auction in New York, the third highest price ever for a Latin American artist.  

The man known as “the last great surrealist,” Chile’s Roberto Matta, has set a new record in topping the Latin American art sale held by prestigious New York-based auction house, Christie’s.

La revolte des contraires (“The revolt of the opposites”) – an oil on canvas painted by the Chilean master in Paris, 1944 – sold for US$5 million on Tuesday, May 22, doubling the initial estimate of US$2.5 million.

“It is a long overdue recognition for the artist, who is one of the most influential artists of the 20th century,” Virgilio Garza, Christie’s Latin American art chief, told Reuters.

With yellow and black polygons interspersed among whirling greys and eddies, the surreal landscape of the painting conveys frenetic, even explosive, motion.

“The lines serve as a skeleton of the painting; the thin washes create an ethereal feeling, almost like it’s levitating,” Garza said. “The outburst of colors are almost volcanic.”

The work is particularly important because it is was fundamental in ushering in a new style of painting, which would go on to revolutionize the art world.

“The liquid drip in the painting is part of his breakthrough,” Garza said. Matta’s New York students included Jackson Pollock, who later would become famous for his drip paintings and for bringing the surrealism movement into household discourse.

The figure fetched by La revolte des contraires represents the third highest for a Latin American artist sold at international auction, behind only Rufino Tamayo’s “Trovador,” which sold for US$7.2 million at Christie’s in 2008, and Frida Kahlo’s “Raíces,” which sold for US$5.6 million at Sotheby’s in 2006.

Christie’s recent auction set records for a dozen other artists, with the evening totaling at US$23 million in sales.

Among them was Chilean hyper-realist, Claudio Bravo, whose “Psalterium” sold for US$1.1 million.

For Chilean residents and travelers to South America, many of Matta’s work can be seen at Santiago’s Museo Nacional de Bellas Artes.