María Berrío - 20th Century & Contemporary Art Evening Sale in association with Yongle Hong Kong Thursday, December 1, 2022 | Phillips

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  • “To truly ennoble womanhood, we must discover and appreciate the beauty in every action, big or small.”
    — María Berrío

    María Berrío is a Colombian-born artist hailing from Bogotá though now living and working in New York, who produces highly intricate, decorative works where women take centre-stage within imagined landscapes that are often populated by fantastical creatures. She follows in the tradition of her Colombian forbearers by weaving magical realism into her kaleidoscopic tapestries where folklore and figuration come together in sumptuous harmony; an exuberance that recalls the paintings of the great Austrian secessionist, Gustav Klimt.



    Gustav Klimt, The Friends, 1917


    Her artistic process is one of painstaking yet beautiful dedication to the craft of collage: taking rare decorative papers from Thailand, Japan and Nepal, she then creates a delicate veneer on which she then applies watercolours. ‘Working with collage there is such a marvellous diversity of textures,’ she enthuses, ‘different sounds made as they are torn… I love the spreading of glue with sticky fingers, the stretching, the cutting. These collages are built layer by layer forming the topographical features upon the canvas.’i



    Glimpses of the Surreal


    Berrío’s paintings act almost like Rorschach tests or cogent unravellings of the artist’s expansive imagination that bristle with both self-expression and self-determination, a double-edged sword that cuts through the fossilised legacy of the male gaze that permits her feminine totems to flourish. The Lovers 2, painted in 2015, is an accomplished product of this desire to define female autonomy, and demonstrates a turn to the introspective. Here we are introduced to a veiled beauty against a seductive backdrop of crimson flowers, which when paired with her pale – almost translucent – complexion, grants the painting a certain sensuality, one made disarming by her inscrutable stare.



    Frida Kahlo, Self-Portrait with Thorn Necklace and Hummingbird, 1940
    Harry Ransom Center, Austin, Texas, Austin
    Image: Bridgeman Images, Artwork: © 2022 Banco de México Diego Rivera Frida Kahlo Museums Trust, Mexico, D.F. / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York


    In the current work, the protagonist’s tattooed hands are raised up in a dainty pose, affirming her fragility, while stroking the head of the flamingo that drapes down from her headpiece – undoubtedly the centrepiece of Berrío’s mastery of pigment. Similar to Mexican icon Frida Kahlo, whom also adorns her portraits with animals such as hummingbirds, monkeys and black cats surrounding her central self-portrait, animals often form part of Berrío’s compositions, acting as visceral attachments to her homeland that provide the id for her creative drive. Yet she eschews the traditional artistic uses of animals (that of allegory or religion) and instead incorporates their spirituality into her compositions to then lend them magical quality. As such she follows in the philosophy of the French symbolist Paul Gauguin, who sought to uncover Tahiti – and thus its nature and true being – before its colonisation and dragging into the modern age.



    Paul Gauguin, Mahana no atua (Day of the God), 1894
    Collection of the Art Institute, Chicago
    Image: Art Institute of Chicago, Helen Birch Bartlett Memorial Collection, 1926.198 


    Divine Feminine


    The femininity that one bears witness to are not necessarily reflections of Berrio as a woman, nor those that surround her, but rather projections of what she thinks a woman should be: ‘They are embodied ideals of femininity. The ghostly pallor of their skin suggests an otherworldliness; they appear to be more spirit than flesh. These are the women I want to be: strong, vulnerable, compassionate, courageous, and in harmony with themselves and nature. They combine the elements of women who are typically thought of as powerful – the captains of industry, resolute politicians, fiery activists – with the traits of those who are not usually thought of as such, thereby underlining the common force found in all women. The female soldier fighting on the front lines is of interest, but so too is the mother who finds a way to feed her children and sing them to sleep amid bombing campaigns and in the ruins of cities’ii.


    While the default option for when we think of Latin female artists is undoubtedly Frida Kahlo, Berrío represents a new wave of artists who are carving out their own pedestals within the art world, and accordingly deserve our respect and attention. Berrío describes this not only as marking a stage for herself and future generations, but as a way of remedying the larger social injustices that women face: ‘I feel like it’s my responsibility to shine the light on other Latina women who haven’t had this possibility’iii. This marriage of the personal and the political places her at the head of a long line of Latin women who have sought to express themselves artistically through the prism of political strife that sadly dominates the continent.


    However, her practice should not be solely defined by the oft-used Latin tropes of political trauma, but rather be considered a dialogue with humanity, one that bridges cultural sensitivity and social identity, ancient and contemporary sensibilities, while endowing the physical with the majestic.



    Installation view of the current work (left) at New York, Rachel Uffner Gallery, All That Glitters, 29 June - 2 August 2017

    Collector’s Digest


    Testament to the artist’s meteoric rise to critical acclaim, Berrío received a solo presentation with Victoria Miro Gallery at Frieze Los Angeles this year, on the heels of her major survey debut at the Norton Museum of Art, West Palm Beach in 2021.


    A solo exhibition of new and existing works will take place at Institute of Contemporary Art in 2023.


    Recent group shows include: Born in Flames: Feminist Futures, Bronx Museum of the Arts, New York (2021); Labor: Motherhood & Art in 2020, University Art Museum at New Mexico State University, Las Cruces (2020); Present Tense: Recent Gifts of Contemporary Art, Philadelphia Museum of Art, Philadelphia (2019); Prospect.4 Triennial, New Orleans (2017).


    Other important exhibitions of the artist include María Berrío: A Day’s Cadence, Victoria Miro, London (2020); María Berrío, Caroline Walker, Flora Yukhnovich, Victoria Miro, London, UK (2019); A Cloud’s Roots, Kohn Gallery, Los Angeles (2019); In a Time of Drought, Praxis International Gallery, New York (2017); The Harmony of the Spheres, Praxis International Gallery, New York (2015).


    Berrío’s work is held in the permanent collections of: Dallas Museum of Art; LACMA, Los Angeles; Museum of Contemporary Art, Chicago; Ford Foundation Center for Social Justice, New York; Pérez Art Museum, Miami; Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, Philadelphia; Whitney Museum of American Art, New York; and Yuz Museum, Shanghai.




    i María Berrio, quoted in María Berrío and C.J. Bartunek, ‘“As Complicated and Elusive as Reality”: María Berrío's Many-Layered Collages (with an interview by C.J. Bartunek)’, The Georgia Review, 2019, online

    ii María Berrío, quoted in Laura Isabella, ‘Latin American artist María Berrío's collages explore the innate power of women’, itsnicethat, 10 April 2018, online

    iii María Berrío, quoted in Adrian Hornton, ‘“Like magical realism”: María Berrío on her surreal collages’, The Guardian, 20 June 2020, online

    • Provenance

      Praxis Gallery, New York
      Private Collection, Chicago
      Acquired from the above by the present owner

    • Exhibited

      New York, Praxis Gallery, María Berrío: The Harmony of the Spheres, 10 September - 7 November 2015, n.p. (illustrated)
      New York, Rachel Uffner Gallery, All That Glitters, 29 June - 2 August 2017


The Lovers 2

signed, titled and dated ‘“The lovers 2” María Berrío 2015’ on the reverse
watercolour, Swarovski rhinestones and Japanese rice paper collage on canvas
182.5 x 183 cm. (71 7/8 x 72 in.)
Executed in 2015.

Full Cataloguing

HK$4,000,000 - 6,000,000 

Sold for HK$9,930,000

Contact Specialist

Charlotte Raybaud
Specialist, Head of Evening Sale
+852 2318 2026

20th Century & Contemporary Art Evening Sale in association with Yongle

Hong Kong Auction 1 December 2022