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The Mystery Behind the US $1.3 Million Mural Sold at arteBA

Did you hear the one about MALBA, Juliana Awada and the million dollar painting?

By | [email protected] | April 17, 2019 8:21am

2910844Untitled, by Jorge de La Vega (Photo via La Nación)

arteBA has come and gone, and all that are left are the memories and a few pics on our Instagram feed. At least that’s true for most of us mortals… The truly blessed walked away this past weekend with either a) a piece of art they managed to acquire, or b) a piece of art they managed to sell.

Let’s not forget that, first and foremost, arteBA is an art fair, as was made crystal clear by these eight movers and shakers of the art world back on Friday. And as such, sales numbers are the main factor toward determining the expo’s success in any given year. Case in point: this year marked the biggest ever sale in the history of the event, an untitled mural from 1967 by Argentine artist Jorge de la Vega, for a whopping US $1.3 million, dethroning Julio Le Parc’s Mobile Argent Sur Noir (US $350,000) by a mile.

Photo via Ámbito

There’s a lot to unwrap with this acquisition, including the fact that, to this day, the buyer’s name remains a mystery. So lets go step by step:

  • The painting was sold by MCMC gallery, founded by María Calcaterra in 2014. Calcaterra is the nephew of Angelo Calcaterra, cousin of president Mauricio Macri and a figure involved in the now infamous “notebooks scandal.” This is just the tip of the iceberg in the six degrees of separation between the painting and the current president. Read on.
  • The previous owner of the piece was Bruno Barbier, ex-husband of Juliana Awada, current wife of Mauricio Macri. Awada, by the way, was photographed at the launch of arteBA, posing in front of the painting, sparking all sorts of rumors that placed her as the buyer. This theory, however, has since been debunked.
  • One of the biggest names thrown out there was none other than Eduardo Costantini, the man behind MALBA, which already owns a sort of  “sister piece” called Rompecabezas, also done by De la Vega. Costantini’s offer, by his own confession, fell short.
  • Another name being thrown into the hat is Hugo Sigman, a businessman related to the pharmaceutical and agroforestry industries, with close connections to the cultural and film production worlds. According to Infobae, however, Sigman has also denied that he is the mystery buyer.

Maybe in the following days, the name of the owner of the painting will be revealed, but chances are that this one will remain a mystery for a while. In the past, it was all too common for gallery owners and art collectors to be visited by the tax men at the AFIP as soon as news came out that important artworks had been acquired. This, plus the obvious security risks involved, make anonymity a valuable commodity. A US $1.3 million commodity, if you will.