Modern & Contemporary South Asian Art
March 19, 2014
219, "Painting No. 3," by Vasudeio S. Gaitonde, oil on canvas
copyright Michele Leight; Photos copright Michele Leight courtesy of
Gaitonde offered at Sotheby's Modern & Contemporary South Asian
sale in New York this spring was far more stunning in person than any
reproduction of "Painting No. 3," shown above, could ever be. The
set in a habitual haze could mean many different things to many
different people. If the artist had his way, we would see nothing at
all in his paintings. Vasudeio Gaitonde called them "non-objective,"
He was a loner, some even called him a hermit. The last thing he wanted
to do was discuss what his paintings
were "about,"and he often spent time with fellow artists in complete
silence. They accepted this to be able to have access to him.
loved quietude, which permeates his work. This beautiful painting was
one of the treasures of New Yorks' Asian Art sales.
Gaitonde will be the subject of a major retrospective at the Guggenheim
Museum in New York in the Fall of 2014, making him one of the first
Modern Indian artists to be honored with a retrospective.
of "Painting No. 3" by Vasudeo S. Gaitonde, 1962, oil on canvas
were many other works of art of quality, such
as - a personal favourite - Jitish
Kallat's "Sweatopia 1," Subodh Gupta's "Idol Thief III," several by MF
Husain, an unusual Bhupen Khakhar - "Buffalo Among the Flower Beds,"
an atmospheric "roofscape" by Francis Newton Souza. It is always good
to see Manjit Bawa's distinctive paintings, and this sales "Untitled"
depicted a bull against a striking yellow background
The top lot of the sale was Lot 219, "Painting No. 3" which fetched
those that might not know, Gaitonde is now India's top selling artist,
after a painting by him sold at Christie's (December 2013) in Mumbai
for $23.7 crores. An artist who kept the world at arms
Gaitonde never made much money from his work during his lifetime, and
he refused to make deals for his work that he considered unfair. Back
he asked for thousands, not crores, for his work. He even
abandoned his family when they refused to support his chosen profession
as an artist, preferring that he become a doctor. Although he was a
member of the Progressive Artists Movement of the 1950s Gaitonde moved
from it to find his own visual language. This excerpt is from "An
Untitled Canvas," in "Eye Magazine" (The Sunday Express, India, January
5-11, 2014, by Sunanda Mehta with Dipanita Nath, Pallavi Pundir and
suspicion of wordiness, of anything that could
dilute the intensity of his mind and beliefs, extended to his work.
'It's not that I have nothing to say through my paintings. I may not be
making a statement - I don't want to...I am not wedded to any dogma or
belief of narrow loyalty...I am first and foremost an individual. I
cannot subscribe to any collective thinking and I will not acknowledge
any thought that does not appeal to my reason. Emotions
are intrinsically individual in their impact and revelation. And what I
seek to portray, being true to myself, remains personal. (So) I can
only hope for a certain understanding by others. That is the reason why
I don't caption my paintings and why a single color dominates my
compositions,' he said in the interview with The Illustrated Weekly."
catalogue for this sale includes further highlights about this painting:
in one of Gaitonde's earliest New York exhibitions, Painting No.3 is an
ethereal and complex painting, and is an oustanding example of Vasudeo
Gaitonde's early work. Painted in 1962 before the full extent of his
'non-objective' search was brought to bear upon his compositions, this
series of paintings served as a bridge between his geometric patterns
of the 1950s and his later move towards pure abstraction. This
work is essentially his negotiation during the transition between the
figurative and abstract realms. Here, a few specks of darker pigment
punctuate the light background, hinting at a horizon and other
identifiable forms or structures. Some semblance of figurative elements
remain, disturbing and resolving the image simultaneously. Through a
sensitive and thoughtful exploration of color, Gaitonde has created a
calm and serene space that invites contemplation..."
Lot 205, Bhupen
Khakar's "Buffalo among Flower Bed," (not illustrated),
came in second selling
for $293,000, well above its estimate of $150,000 to
295, "Sweatopia I," by Jitish Kallat, 2008, acrylic on canvas
distinction between "modern" and "contemporary is clear in Indian and
South Asian art perhaps because the origins of the civilizations they
represent are so ancient. A select group of contemporary works of art
offered in this sale are from an important international collection
that were created between 2006 and 2008, including pieces by Ravinder
Gupta, Jitish Kallat, Jaganath Panda and Sudharshan Shetty.
love Jitish Kallat's work, perhaps because it takes me right into the
thick of India, a country I love. I can feel the swarming masses, the
traffic jams rife with motor scooters, cars, lorries and bicycles,
the vibrant colors, the thronging bazaars. Just by looking at
"Sweatopia I" (Lot 295, illustrated above), I can hear the
and imagine the sights of this amazing nation. It is refreshing to see
an artist who
holds firmly to his depiction of people and
overlook. In "Sweatopia I," the protagonists are portrayed as cogs in
giant machine that is India's labor and work force, not the most likely
subjects of "high art." Here, Kallat - like Gupta elevating his
utensils - has glorified the ordinary person in a beautiful and
meaningful way. Cleverly invading his subjects hair, Kallat
embellishes it in
"Kallat takes advantage of his artistic liberty in
the composition of the hair, which narrates Bombay's stream of
consciousness. Outlined in black paint are animals, people, vehicles
and buildings compressed and piled above each other, concentrated in
the space of the hair..." and "...A feeling of claustrophobia prevails
until the viewer notices the refreshing sky, patterned with what looks
like rain droplets on a window...The painting captures the urban
lifestyle and the dialogue between individual and collective
experiences in Bombay's expansive metropolis..." (Sotheby's catalogue
for this sale)
the over-crowding, there is an "apartness" among the protagonists. They
are disconnected from each other and from the viewer, as many of us are
that live in crowded cities, rarely making eye-contact with each other.
Lot 295 has an
estimate of $200,000 to $300,000. It sold
Lot 294, "Idol Thief III," by Subodh Gupta, 2007, oil on canvas; Right:
Lot 299, "Victor," by Anju Dodiya, 2007, watercolor, charcoal and
pastel on paper; embroidery on mattress
80 percent of the population in India, I grew up carrying my lunch in
these tiffin pots,' said Subodh Gupta ('Trendsetters: Cow Dung, Curry
Pots and a Hungry God'. ARTNews, September 2007, p.108, cited in
Christie's catalogue for this sale).
While the Western style coffee bars have proliferated across India,
selling Indian snacks, Western pastries and designer coffees
to people of all ages but especially the young, the homely
carrier - with its multiple compartments - can still be
seen carried to school by students, or delivered to workers at
bustling cities. It is a uniquely Indian phenomenon. As young
people grow more accustomed to the convenience of picking
up snacks during their work day, they may not want to be
down with a heavy midday
meal - or carry such a heavy lunchbox in the years ahead.
Perhaps the artist senses that these
iconic food carriers will soon remain in the kitchen, like
the sculptures he portrays them to be:
these continue to be objects of desire for the underclasses, a shiny
symbol of ample food and wealth, a fact which Gupta was well aware of,
having been raised in Bihar, one of India's most impoverished states.
By using objects that typically occupy an innocuous position in Indian
households and elevating them to cult status, Gupta is following in
Marcel Duchamp and Jeff Koon's footsteps but also commenting on both
India's growth and shortfalls..." (Sotheby's catalogue for this sale)
Lot 294 has an estimate of
$150,000 to $250,000. It sold
Dodiya's fascinating "Victor,"
(Lot 299), is part embroidery, mixed with charcoal, pastel and
watercolor on paper, a delicate repertoire that has yielded a unique
style of painting. In the catalogue it is shown displayed in the
beautiful Durbar Hall of the Laxmi Vilas Palace, in the exhibition
"Throne of Frost:"
"Throne of Frost was a meditation on
transcendence - the passage of time, the brevity of grandeur and the
certainty of our mortality within the glitter of the palace. I tried to
explore historic images of the royals, medieval weapons, symbols of
power and heraldry - with the fragile vulnerability of charcoal and
watercolor..." (Anju Dodiya, cited in Sotheby's catalogue for this sale)
Lot 299 has an estimate of $30,000 to $50,000. It sold for $31,250.
Lot 236, "Untitled," by Manjit Bawa, 2003, oil on canvas; Right: Lot
216, "Untitled," by Syed Haider Raza, 1982, oil on canvas
on the left is a meditative, stylized cow set against a pulsating
background by Manjit Bawa, whose paintings are unmistakable:
"Bawa fondly reminisces about his artistic choices and aptly says.
'Being a turbaned Sikh from an ordinary middle-class family was
daunting enough but to strike out against the prevalent forces of
Cubism and the iconic Klee was to really ask for big trouble and I was
hauled up time and again with strict instructions to toe the
line. But I remained true to my calling, naturally annoying
authorities. Even then in those formative years I was haunted by the
spectre of mediocrity. I was willing to accept any challenge, but on my
own terms. I was obsessed with one driving need - to create my own
painterly language.'" (M. Bawa, 'I Cannot Live By Your Memories. Manjt
Bawa in Conversation with Ina Puri' Let's Paint the Sky Red: Manjit
Bawa, Vadhera Art Gallery, New Delhi, 2011. p.47)
Lot 236 has an estimate of $120,000 to $180,000. It sold for $209,000.
Haider Raza's Franco-Indian depictions of the countryside have become
part of the DNA of Modern Indian art, beginning with his important
one of the Progressive Artist's Group after India gained independence.
This painting is arguably more "Indian" than French, with its
saturated, warm oranges banishing the cooler, European colors of his
earlier work. Christie's catalogue for this sale describes this
painting as being from that transitional period, and his progression
towards total abstraction.
has an estimate of $120,000 to $180,000. It sold for $221,000.
to right, by Paramjit Singh: Lot 201, "Untitled," 1969, oil on canvas; Lot 202,"Untitled (Painting in
Green)," 1969, oil on canvas; Lot 203, "Untitled (Still
Life)," 1969, oil on canvas
paintings illustrated above by Paramjit Singh were once in the
Collection of Dr.
Johanna Nestor, Austrian ambassador to India and Ceylon, 1966-1970,
(among other postings as ambassador), at a time when such things were
the preserve of men. Reading Sotheby's catalogue for this sale reveals
a woman whose life was so eventful it is worthy of a book and a film.
What caught my eye was an unusually open-minded father "who gave her
the education and advantages that in the 1920s and 30s were normally
reserved for boys. Dr. Nestor was actrive in many sports,
the classics (Greek and Latin), and was one of the first women to
the Vienna Consular Academy (1935-1937). In 1938, her life changed when
the Nazi's annexed Austria, and she was forced to abandon her law
studies because her father was Jewish. "In 1941 she married Walter
Nestor, an Austrian lawyer who, in 1934, had joined in the suppression
of an uprising by Austrian Nazis. For this he was later imprisoned for
nearly a year (1938-1939) in the concentration camp of Dachau on the
outskirts of Munich and, upon his release, was forbidden to practice
law. The couple was wed in a ceremony that was kept secret because it
was illegal under Nazi racial laws. In 1945, in the immediate aftermath
of the liberation of Vienna by the Russians, Dr. Nestor lost both her
father and her husband, leaving her alone and responsible for her
infant son and elderly mother, in a city still smoking from
street fighting between Russian soldiers and storm troopers."
(Sotheby's catalogue for this sale)
Dr. Nestor persevered, finding a job as a typist for the British
occupation and continuing her law studies. She became one of the first
women to enter the Austrian diplomatic corps, and years later when she
was in India she began collecting Indian art, including these three
paintings by Paramjit Singh, that are among his earliest landscapes, of
which he made only five. They were exhibited in his first sold
exhibition in Delhi in 1969. They are eerily beautiful and reminiscent
of Georgio de Chirico. The paintings did very well, all exceeding their
Lot 201, "Untitled," by Paramjit Singh has an estimate of $12,000 to
$18,000. It sold for
"Untitled (Painting in Green)," by Paramjit Singh has an estimate of
$12,000 to $18,000. It
sold for $20,000.
Lot 203, "Untitled (Still Life)," by Paramjit Singh has an estimate of
$15,000 to $20,000. It
sold for $35,000.
Lot 227, "Untitled
(Landscape)," by Francis Newton Souza, 1963, oil on board
Newton Souza was a prolific artist and his paintings have been doing
very well at auction in the past few years. Illustrated above, the
Lot 227, "Untitled (Landscape)," painted in 1963 gives some
idea of his painterly technique.
beautiful work is an intriguing mix of Italian and
Spanish architecture fused with India's baked earthen colors.
heavily impastoed sky is worthy of Robert Ryman. Souza was
a scholarship in
England that allowed him to travel to European cities with rich
architectural and cultural histories like Amsterdam, Madrid and Rome,
that clearly influenced his work.
Lot 227 has an
estimate of $150,000 to $200,000.
It sold for $221,000.
204, "Untitled (Anant Yatra)," by Jagdish Swaminathan, oil
beautiful gem of a painting by Jagdish Swaminathan, Lot 204, "Untitled
(Anant Yatra)," is also from the Collection of Dr. Joanna
stark contrast to the PAG (Progressive Artist's Group), Swaminathan's
paintings of the 1960s were imbued with symbols drawn from Indian
tribal and folk art, resisting any influence from movements in the
West." (Sotheby's catalogue for this sale)
Lot 204 has an
estimate of $80,000 to $120,000. It
sold for $161,000.
Lot 212, "Head on an Orange Background," by Francis Newton Souza, 1957,
oil on board; Center: Lot 286, "Untitled (Abhisarika)," by
Fida Husain, 1965, oil on canvas; Right: Lot 210, "Untitled (Three
Horses)," by Maqbool Fida Husain, oil
Lot 212 has an
estimate of $120,000 to 180,000. It
sold for $149,000.
Lot 286 has an estimate of $120,000 to $180,000. It passed.
Lot 210 has an
estimate of $100,000 to $150,000. It
sold for $161,000.
Lot 250, ""Untitled (The
Dancer)," by Ganesh Pyne, 1968, tempera on canvas laid on board
Pyne's magical use of paint harks back to medieval miniature paintings,
when artists glazed their works with natural dye and used egg-whites as
a fixitif over each layer of colour, allowing the painting surface to
harden. Sotheby's catalogue for this sale notes that the
also paints transparent layers with natural pigments he mixes using
vegetable gums from acacia trees, and that his early experiments with
indigenous powder pigments and a variety of binding agents allowed him
to develop a unique way of building up texture on a surface that
appears incandescent, a painstaking process, sometimes taking months to
complete. The coat rack appears in many of Pyne's works.
Lot 250 has an estimate of $80,000 to $120,000. It sold for $125,000.
Lot 214, "Untitled," by Ram
Kumar, 1964, oil on canvas
Kumar is a sophisticated artist, and studied under Andre Lhote
Fernand Leger. This gorgeous painting is from the artist's Varanasi
series, the most sacred cities of Hindus: "Hindus believe that death or
cremation in this holy city leads to liberation rather than rebirth in
another form and in some ways these sentiments are reflected in the
transition of Ram Kumar's work from figuration to abstraction. In the
words of the artist, 'sitting on the steps of the Manikarnika Ghat,
watching the dead bodies some brought from distant villages in boats,
waiting for their turn for liberation, I almost felt the disappearing
boundary line between life and death.' (G. Gill ed., Ram Kumar: a
Journey Within, Vadhra Art Gallery, New Delhi, 1996.p.89), cited in
Sotheby's catalogue for this sale."
Lot 214 has an estimate of $80,000 to $120,000. It sold for $87,500.
279, "Untitled," by Maqbool Fida Husain is from the
artist's series based on Mother Teresa, subject matter that he
throughout his working life. "Husain viewed his depictions of Mother
Theresa as akin to Madonna in the Pieta and her saree is a symbol of
her protection and the unfolding of humanity. As with the Pieta, there
is a baby in the arms of Mother Theresa...Husain's mother passed away
when he was only three months old leaving him no visual image of her,
not even a photograph. It is for this reason that the paintings in his
series show the Holy Mother without a face, as seen in the present
example." (Sotheby's catalogue for this sale)
Lot 279 has an estimate of $80,000 to $100,000. It sold for $137,000.
Lot 228, "Kerala," by
Maqbool Fida Husain, 1968, oil on canvas
228, "Kerala," by MF Husain, is a magnificently luscious painting that
reflects the verdant state and warm people in South India of its title
- Kerala. Every
Indian art auction includes works by this artist that always find
buyers, because they are so appealing. Husain was prolific,
creating many paintings of great quality and beauty during his
Lot 228 has an estimate of $80,000 to $120,000. It sold for $100,000.
223, "Untitled," by Prabhakar Barwe, 1969, embroidered tapestry
223, "Untitled," a superb tapestry by Prabhkar Barwe, bears the
influence of Paul Klee and Ben Nicholson, who the artists sites an
inspration. Barwe was an innovative artist/weaver, joining the Weavers
Design Service Center in the early 60s.
Lot 223 has an estimate of $15,000 to $20,000. It sold for $22,500.
Lot 297, "An Ancestor II," by
Jagannath Panda, 2007, glue, fabric, acrylic on canvas
painting by Jagannath Panda, entitled "An Ancestor II - illustrated
above - is as
beautiful as it is fascinating, a breath of fresh
air, allowing nature to dominate the urban buildings in the background:
Panda grew up in Orissa. Coming from a family of Brahmin priests,
religion played an important role in his upbringing. He was greatly
influenced by the ornate textile designs and patterns native to his
home state. His move to the outskirts of Delhi opened his eyes to a
dysfunctional and ever-changing society. Panda often includes insects,
birds and animals in his work and their adapted behavioural patterns
due to human intervention. His corpus makes the viewer acutely aware of
the relationship between the natural and the urban world and how they
must co-exist. The insects in Panda's paintings seem to be temporarily
stepping into the picture frame and crawling out, migrating from one
place to the next. This is evocative of the displacement that Panda and
others have felt in moving from their rural origins to a metropolis. "
(Christie's catalogue for this sale)
The tree is covered in
fabric that is found in the region of Orissa that Panda grew up in,
offering a tangible link to his roots.
Lot 297 has an estimate of $60,000 to $80,000. It sold for $75,000.
298, "Untitled (Gilded Head)," is Ravinder Reddy's contemporary
interpretation of traditional goddesses with their stylized hairdos,
kohl-lined eyes, nose-rings and voluptuous lips, that have become
prized collectibles with enormous presence: "These sculptures are
moulded from the features of the Dalits and labouring classes. The
monumental size of the head serves to elevate the status of the subject
and confront the prejudices of modern South Asian society - the archaic
systems and the desirability of pure bloods lines and Aryan features.
In a larger sense this may perhaps be interpreted as the artist's
comment on the transformation of Indian culture into humorous and
fetishized objects. His works are mosly depictions of women and by
virtue of their prominence and imposing stature he is essentially
celebrating these people." (Sotheby's catalogue for this sale).
Lot 298 has an estimate of $100,000 to $150,000. It sold for $137,000.
The week of
spring sales of Indian art totaled over $12 million, with Modern &
Contemporary South Asian Art fetching $6.7 million.
The sale of Indian, Himalayan & Southeast Asian Works of Art
very successful, far exceeding its pre-sale estimates, reaching
$5,794,000 (estimate $2.3/$3.4 million). The Auction was led by works
from the important and historic Tamashige Tibet Collection, which
included examples of rare and important thangkas,
sculptures and ritual
objects from the collection of Mr. Yoshitomo Tamashige, one of the
pioneering Japanese collectors of Tibetan art. (see reviews on this