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Lancaster New Era/Intelligencer Journal/Sunday News

Art Of Hispanics Is Getting Attention Of Global Audience

Enelly Betancourt

June 2, 2004
Copyright © 2004 Bell & Howell Information and Learning Company. All rights reserved.

As our nation becomes increasingly Hispanic, the art world has recognized the achievements of artists whose roots are in Central and South America including Cuba, Colombia, Puerto Rico and Mexico.

These artists have created a unique Latin identity and have brought Hispanic art, music and dance into the North American mainstream.

Within Latin America one may encounter distinct and diverse peoples, cultures and languages, many of which are not "Latin," of course. Indigenous, European, African and, to a smaller extent, Asian heritages are all found in Latin America.

The majority of Latin Americans are of mestizo or mixed heritage. Each nation is the product of a unique set of historical and cultural influences.

There is a vast difference in visual languages and traditions in the art of Latin American countries. To speak of the visual culture from that region as a unified body, in which Chilean, Guatemalan or Brazilian art combined presents a single voice, is to ignore the diversity existing between the cultures of each nation. Similarities are evident based on historical influences, but the differences are many.

In the mid-1990s, artists from Latin America became regular participants in the exhibitions incorporating talents from throughout the world. This resulted in part from the emergence of prominent, international curators who focused upon Latin American artists, among other worldwide talents, in their high-profile traveling exhibitions.

While artists make the work, it is the efforts of the collectors who help to fuel certain artists' popularity and help them make their way onto center stage at mainstream U.S. museums.

Not all of these Hispanic collectors focus only on art by Latin American artists. And Latin art is not the exclusive of Hispanic collectors. But Hispanics buying Hispanic art is a trend that gallery owners and museum curators say is helping to internationalize this country's art market.

And lately, more curators and gallery owners are mentioning the names of Hispanic buyers whose purchases are influencing what is considered important and up-and-coming work.

The country's two major art auction houses, Sotheby's and Christie's, are reporting increases in the sales of Latin American art, and they are seeing some pieces fetching higher prices.

Last year, Frida Kahlo's painting, Self Portrait with Curly Hair, brought $1.3 million, and a painting by Chilean surrealist Roberto Matta titled "Desnudos infinitos" brought $1.6 million, both at Christie's Latin American auctions.

Of course, these still don't rival other masterpieces that sell for larger sums, but some of the auction house directors say this is due in part to the relative infancy of the Latin American art market.

But on the bright side, the relatively lower prices are allowing collectors with fewer funds to gain an entry into the market. That's one reason Sotheby's saw a 23 percent increase in sales in Latin American art during its twice-yearly sales since 2001, says Kirsten Hammer, Sotheby's director of Latin American art.

Christie's commitment to Latin American art remains strong. Since its start in 1981, the Latin American department has seen a spectacular growth, which demonstrates a wider interest reaching beyond the traditional Latin American audience.

Directors at both houses agreed growing sales of Latin American art reflect sophistication among collectors, be they Hispanic or not, who see Latin American artists as an important part of the development of many art movements.

This column appears on alternate Wednesday's and is written by Enelly Betancourt, editor of La Voz Hispana for Lancaster Newspapers Inc. 

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