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South Asian Modern and Contemporary Art


September 15, 2010

Sale 2336

Christie's New York Fall Asian Art Week Totals $70.75 Million, 2nd Highest Total For Christies New York Asian Art Week. The Fine Chinese Ceramics and Works of Art Sale Totaled $34,115,000.
The Chinese Works of Art Sales, Including Archaic Bronzes from The Anthony Hardy Collection Totaled $55.5 Million, the Highest Total for a Series of Chinese Art Sales in New York

Untitled by Subodh Gupta, left; Karuna by Atul Dodiya, center; Two Cows by Subodh Gupta, right

Lot 388, "Densely Packed," by Subodh Gupta, oil on canvas, 65 5/8 by 89 5/8 inches, 2004, left; Lot 386, "Karuna," by Atul Dodiya, enamel paint, synthetic varnish and acrylic epoxy on laminate, 71 1/2 by 48 inches, 2006, center; "Two Cows," by Subodh Gupta, bronze and aluminum and chrome, 42 by 73 by 18 inches, from an edition of three, right

By Michele Leight

Superb works by blockbuster contemporary artists Subodh Gupta, T.V. Santosh, Rashid Rana and Atul Dodiya share the limelight with two world-class paintings by modern masters Syed Hyder Raza and Francis Newton Souza that are highlights of the South Asian Modern and Contemporary Art auction at Christie’s in New York. At a press conference Dr. Hugo Weihe, Christie’s International Specialist Head, Asian Art, said that with a pre-sale estimate of $10 million, the South Asian Modern and Contemporary Art sale is the highest value sale of its kind ever offered. One hundred works in all will be offered on September 15, 2010.

Other paintings by Modern masters such as Maqbool Fida Husain and Jagdish Swaminathan offer historical context – and great beauty - for exciting contemporary art, displayed side by side in Christie’s galleries. Early works by Raza, and other Modern Masters evoke nostalgia for the past, while India’s young artists surge ahead on their wonderful legacy.

 Deepanjana Klein of Christie's with two paintings by Souza

Deepanjana Klein, Christie’s Specialist, South Asian Modern and Contemporary Art, with Lot 323, “La Terre,” right, and Lot 334, “Untitled (Large Head),” left, both by Francis Newton Souza

 "La Terre" by Raza

Lot 323, "La Terre," by Syed Haider Raza, acrylic on canvas, 78 3/4 inches square, 1985

A spectacular, earth toned canvas by Syed Hyder Raza, “La Terre,” painted in 1985,  (Lot 323, estimate $2- to $2.5 million), leads the sale of South Asian Modern and Contemporary Art on September 15. Hailing from a pivotal period in the artist’s career, this sophisticated canvas fuses Raza’s signature geometrics with elements of his Indian heritage, evoking both classical and modern traditions in Indian painting.  Lot 323 sold for $1,930,500 including the buyer's premium as do all results mentioned in this article. This was the top lot of the sale.

Detail of Raza's "La Terre"

Detail of Lot 323, "La Terre," by Raza

Dr. Deepanjana Klein from Christie’s Modern and Contemporary South Asian Art Department offered further insights into the challenges of acquiring works of this caliber. In June 2010, a painting by Raza, “Saurashtra,” dating from the same period in his artistic career, in exactly the same dimensions, made history at Christie’s in London when it fetched $3,486,965, a world auction record for the artist, and a new world auction record for any Modern Indian work of art. Deepanjana Klein said: “ Of course, breaking the record helped us be able to approach other collectors with works of this caliber.”

Christie’s catalogue for this sale includes this statement by Raza:

“I moved to a new period in the eighties. The language of your painting changes when you start listening to silence. Within the silence of solitude, the inner landscape of the human mind moves into another pathway. I learned to understand polarities - the co-existence of opposites that complement even as they exist. Life and death, man and woman, black and white - everything has a different rhythm. I realized how poetry can contain few words and say so much. Painting became the metaphor of life itself.”  (Artist statement. A. Vajpeyi, A Life in Art: RAZA, New Delhi, 2007, p 345)

"Le Village" by Raza

Lot 341, “Le Village,” by Syed Hyder Raza, 1956, oil on canvas, 18 1/8 by 21 5/8 inches

"Rajasthan" by Raza, left; Untitled nude by Souza, center; "La Mer" by Raza, right

Left: Lot 355, “Rajasthan," by Syed Hyder Raza, 1975, acrylic on canvas, 39 by 39 inches; center: Lot 340, “Woman with Mirror and Flowers," by Francis Newton Souza, 1960, oil on board, 47 7/8 by 36 inches; right: Lot 356, “La Mer,” by Syed Hyder Raza, 1968, oil on canvas, 40 inches by 39 inches

Some of Raza’s early paintings are still available at reasonable prices, like Lot 341, “Le Village,” (estimated at $80,000 to $120,000), painted as a young and impressionable art student in France, heavily influenced by Cezanne, Gauguin and Monet, and Lot 356, “La Mer,” (1962), a sumptuous composition in blues evoking sea and sky, with an estimate of $250,000 to $350,000, and Lot 355, “Rajasthan,” (1975), with an estimate of $250,000 to $350,000, illustrated above. Wedged between two Raza’s is Lot 340, Francis Newton Souza’s “Woman with Mirror and Flowers,” painted in 1960, with an estimate of $300,000 to $500,000. British art critic John Berger noted: “...(that Souza)...) straddles many traditions but serves none” (New Statesman, 1955, reprinted in Christie’s catalog for this sale).  Lot 341 failed to sell.  Lot 356  failed to sell.  Lot 355 sold for $290,500.  Lot 340 failed to sell.

Deepamjana Klein of Christie's New York and Alexandra Gallery of Christie's London with Souza's untitled Large Head

Deepanjana Klein (Christie’s New York) and Alexandra Gallery (Christie’s London), with Francis Newton Souza’s “Untitled (Large Head), Lot 334

While the influence of Dali and Picasso are obvious in Francis Newton Souza’s wonderful “Untitled, (Large Head),” (Lot 334, estimate $1,200,000-1,800,000), painted in 1962, it is also reminiscent of a Tim Burton sketch for a fantastical character from one of his off-beat movies, or a composite head by Archimboldo, (active 1526-1593), who substituted plants and animals for human features, who will be the subject of a one-man show at The National Gallery of Art in Washington this fall.  A visionary, Souza has combined organic forms and mechanical elements like those in a clock to create an automaton. This strangely appealing composition is intended to depict imagined possibility and cultural theory in the early 1960s.  The painting, which is the cover illustration of the catalogue,  measures 62 5/8 by 40 5/8 inches. Alexandra Gallery, from Christie’s South Asian Modern and Contemporary Art department in London said Souza’s “Untitled (Large Head)” was “a collaboration” between London and New York: “It is from a collection in London,” she said.  Lot 334 sold for $1,426,500.

"Untitled (Bust of a Man)" by Souza

Lot 368, “Untitled (Bust of a Man), by Francis Newton Souza, 1968, oil and spray paint on board, 48 inches square

The catalogue reveals that many of the artworks in this sale have incredible stories attached to them, including Lot 368, “Untitled (Large Head)," from The Collection of the late Robin Howard C.B.E., the eldest son of Sir Arthur Howard and Lady Lorna Baldwin, daughter of the British Prime Minister Stanley Baldwin. Robin Howard’s deep passion for dance, music and modern art was fueled by patronage, and strengthened when, tragically, he lost both of his legs fighting with gallantry in the Scots Guards in the last year of World War II. Christie’s catalogue notes:

“Robin Howard’s first introduction to Francis Newton Souza and Modern Indian Art came from his involvement with Gallery One in London. Directed by the famed art dealer and poet, Victor Musgrave, the gallery, located in London’s bohemian Soho District, was notorious for both its refusal to show any known artists and its program focusing on the new and shocking genre of Outsider art. Howard’s involvement in this extremely influential and avant-garde gallery was great, as he was a silent investor in Musgrave’s project. When Souza arrived in London in the 1950s he was destitute and flat broke. He received a stipend from an anonymous donor. Although this tantalizing connection cannot be proved so long after the event, family lore relates that the anonymous benefactor was in fact Robin Howard...”

This is backed-up by a letter written by Souza himself, reprinted in Christie’s catalogue for this sale:

“Victor Musgrave, my dealer, also managed to find me an enterprising Englishman, Mr. Robin Howard, (who’s now the ‘angel’ for the London Dance Company and introduced Martha Graham in England), who became my patron and collected my work for many years.” (F. N. Souza, For Varsha, written interview, undated, p. 10).

The lot has an estimate of $250,000 to $350,000.  It failed to sell.
"Spain" by Souza
Lot 373, “Spain,” by Francis Newton Souza, 1959, oil on masonite board, 23 7/8 by 47 7/8 inches. Estimate $250,000-300,000

"Untitled (Bird and Mountain Series" by Swaminathan

Lot 351, "Untitled (Bird and Mountain Series," by Jagdish Swaminathan, oil on canvas, 31 3/4 by 45 inches

Other modern masters whose work is represented in this sale include Lot 351, (estimate $120,000 to $180,000), a poetic and meditative “Untitled (Bird and Mountain Series),” by Jagdish Swaminathan (1928-1994), Lot 342, (estimate $100,000 to $150,000), “Trussed Bull,” an oil by by Tyeb Mehta, and a superb work on paper of the same subject, Lot 343, “Untitled (Study for a Trussed Bull),” (estimate $25,000 to $35,000), illustrated below.  Lot 351  failed to sell.  Lot 342 failed to sell.  Lot 343 sold for $37,500.

"Untitled (Study for a Trussed Bull)" by Mehta

Lot 342, “Untitled (Study for a Trussed Bull,” by Tyeb Mehta, 1966, oil on canvas, 23 by 29 5/8 inches

"Untitled (study for a trussed bull)" by Mehta

Lot 343, “”Untitled (Study for Trussed Bull),” 1999, charcoal on paper, 19 by 23 1/8 inches

Striking Lot 345, “Untitled (Durga),” by Manjit Bawa (1941-2008), with an estimate of $200,000 to $250,000, literally jumps off the wall it is so powerful.  It sold for $314,500.

"Untitled (Durga)" by Bawa

Lot 345, "Untitled (Durga)," by Manjit Bawa, oil on canvas, 68 1/2 by 81 inches

Deepanjana Klein said this was one of the last paintings he was able to do.

"Untitled (Sitar Player)" by Husain

Lot 365, “Untitled (Sitar Player),” by Maqbool Fida Husain, circa late 1960s, oil on canvas, 38 1/8 x 68 inches

There are few sounds or symbols that evoke India as potently as a sitar, or sitar player, depicted in the painting illustrated here - Lot 365, “Untitled (Sitar Player),” by Maqnool Fida Husain. Executed in muted, poetically beautiful colors, this legendary Modern artist skillfully re-interprets age-old traditions in a fresh, new way. “Untitled (Sitar Player),” has an estimate of $350,000 to $500,000.  It sold for $422,500.

The energy level explodes and the imagery and subject matter grows more intense in the work of India’s and South Asia’s exciting contemporary artists, with outstanding examples on offer at this sale. This is a reflection of an incredible legacy bequeathed to them by a generation of artistic geniuses that preceded them, and their own celebrations and concerns as young citizens of a nation (India) that is surging ahead in the global area, yet mindful of the fall-out that can come with that engagement: wars, rampant consumerism and the inevitability that some must be left out of the peace, health and prosperity afforded to those on the upward mobility ladder. It is a heartening and timely preoccupation, and one that is not unexpected when one knows young Indians and Pakistanis. Change is on their mind, big time.

"Red Carpet III" by Rana

Lot 382, “Red Carpet III,” by Rashid Rana, 2007, chromogenic print and Diasic mounted, 52 3/8 by 72 inches; number one from an edition of five plus one artist’s proof

Rashid Rana (b. 1968) is a Pakistani artist who lives and works in Lahore, a city steeped in rich cultural traditions, and sumptuous architecture. His work is influenced by the ancient tradition of miniature painting of South Asia and beautiful Persian rugs. However, no one “tweaks” tradition as much as this brilliant artist. “Red Carpet III,” (Lot 382, estimate $150,000 to $250,000), is from his Red Carpet Series, in which Rana “takes the archetypal and cultural symbolism of the woven carpet and inverts this historicism by appropriating gory, actual photo-images in absolute truth to reality” (Christie’s catalog for this sale). This glorious carpet is in fact comprised of tiny pixelated photo-images of slaughtered goats as prescribed by halal law, only revealed upon close inspection. The acute attention to detail is a direct reference to miniature paintings, while the subject matter definitely is not. In July 2010 the Musee Guimet in Paris held a retrospective of Rana’s work.  Lot 382 sold for $182,500.

"Two Cows" by Gupta

Lot 383, “Two Cows,” by Subodh Gupta, 2005, bronze and aluminum with chrome, 42 by 73 by 18 inches; bicycle; 24 by 12 by 9 inches; four milk cans; 22.5 by 11 by 9 inches; two milk cans; 19 by 11 by 8 inches; two milk cans. Number one from an edition of three

Contemporary Indian artists like Subodh Gupta (b. 1964) have resonated enormously with collectors and audiences globally and in India. His witty, satirical “take” on urban versus rural aspects of Indian life, global urbanization and its fall-out, and rampant consumerism are parodied time and again in winsome assemblages like “Two Cows,” (Lot 383, estimate $280,000 to $350,000) and “Densely Packed,” painted in 2004, (estimate $250,000 to $300,000). Gupta deploys a visual vocabulary that is understood and admired internationally, while almost always deploying uniquely Indian “props,” like kitchen utensils, bicycles and taxicabs, among others.  It sold for $542,500.

Christie's catalogue notes of “Two Cows:”

“By combining two practical objects Subodh eliminates the inherent functionality of both and then recasts the once simple vehicle of sustenance and transportation as a precious luxury commodity. Working in the same spirit as Duchamp's readymade, in which he mounted a bicycle wheel on a bar stool rendering both functional items useless, Subodh segregates the form of an object and its function and condenses it all into an archetype - be it sacred or profane - of Indian art. The action of the artist then is the greatest function of all.”

"Densely packed" by Gupta

Lot 388, “Densely Packed,” by Subodh Gupta, 2004, oil on canvas, 65 5/8 x 89 5/8 inches

In “Overview and Highlights of Asian Art Week”  Gupta’s “Untitled,” (Lot 347, estimate $200,000-300,000, illustrated below), a painting featuring contemporary stainless steel sieves and ladles that can be found in homes and shops across India, is compared with an ancient silver Roman or Gandharan sieve and an extremely rare ancient ladle from Gandhara, both dating from the 1st century B.C. to early 1st century A.D., from the Collection of Julian Sherrier. This collection is from the sale of Indian and Southeast Asian Art, on September 14, 2010.  It sold for $242,500.

"Untitled" by Gupta

Lot 347, “Untitled,” by Subodh Gupta, 2004, oil on canvas, 66 by 90 inches

 "The notions of "emptiness within the riches of vessels is an interesting point of departure for Gupta.  His deceptively simple-looking works carved in the high-gloss sheen of the familiar, homely, stainless steel forms, are a commentary on contemporary India, transitions, and the inherent contradictions of globalization," according to the catalogue.

T.V. Santosh’s bold paintings exude an angst we can identify with because they often depict disturbing current events and trends we would rather avoid that play out in the media and in life. But we cannot avoid the subject matter he chooses to transcribe, which gives his paintings great power. Lot 387, “Scars of an Ancient Error,” (estimate $100,000 to $150,000), depicts a science laboratory, a symbol of prosperity and progress. But Santosh is also aware of the negative aspects of technological development and “progress,”  and he does not hesitate to load his paintings with historic global crises, political commentary and genuine fear for where civilization is heading.  It sold for $122,500.

"Scars of an Ancient Error" by Santosh

Lot 387, “Scars of an Ancient Error,” by T.V. Santosh, 2006, oil on canvas, 54 by 70 inches

T. V. Santosh’s super-charged paintings take on the horrific effects of war, terrorism, bloodshed and violence. In this work “he implores the audience to re-evaluate the politics of war and terrorism – a plea to identify the real enemy," according to the catalogue.

"Untitled" by Santosh

Lot 354, “Untitled,” by T.V. Santosh, 2008, oil on canvas, 48 by 72 inches

Lot 354, “Untitled,” (estimate $80,000 to $100,000) by T.V. Santosh (b. 1975) is a powerful image of the horror of war, depicting a soldier who is subjected to the artist’s characteristic “X Ray” or film negative treatment. Specifics are deleted, and defy identification – Santosh’s soldier becomes the universal soldier; the brave warrior sent off by governments and nations to fight our battles, incur horrible injuries, and even die - while we watch them on T.V., read about them in newspapers, and move on with our daily lives. Both these painting are fantastic examples of the artists work.   It sold for $110,500.          

"Kalki" by Dodiya

Lot 392, “Kalki,” by Atul Dodiya, 2002, enamel paint on metal roller shutter and acrylic and marble dust on canvas, 108 inches by 72 inches. Shutter down.

Lot 392, “Kalki,” estimated at $180,000 to $250,000, is the beguiling “shop shutter” installation by Atul Dodiya described earlier, and one of the glories of this sale. It is reproduced here several times, in various stages of “open” and “closed,” with Deepanjana Klein officiating as “opener” and “closer,” revealing the painting behind it. These shutters are common in stores across India, transformed and utilized here for a purpose far beyond the mundane.  It failed to sell.

"Kalki" by Dodiya, half open

Lot 392, “Kalki,” by Atul Dodiya, with shutter opened half-way by Deepanjana Klein

"Kalki" open

Lot 392, “Kalki,” by Atul Dodiya with shutter opened all the way by Deepanjana Klein, showing the painting beneath the painting.

Watching that shutter go up – and then come down – on “Kalki,” a contemporary “ready-made,” was a sublime experience, simultaneously magical and childlike. It was fun to be included in this very special show. Christie’s catalog for this sale notes:

“Culture and history of India play an important role in shaping the barrage of images which inform Atul Dodiya’s works. This work titled “Kalki” refers to the final avatar of the Hindu god Vishnu. According to the ancient Hindu texts, the Puranas, Kalki is prophesied to visit and end the present age and darkness, also known as Kali Yuga. Immensely conscious of history, this piece reflects Dodiya’s impressive knowledge of both current events and ancient religion and he quotes freely from the recesses of both Western and Indian art traditons.”

"Karuna" by Dodiya

Lot 386, “Karuna,” by Atul Dodiya, 2004-2006, enamel paint, synthetic varnish and acrylic epoxy on laminate, 172 inches by 48 inches

It was a difficult work to leave “Kalki” behind but thankfully there was another stunning work by Dodiya, entitled “Karuna,” (Lot 386, estimate $100,000 to $150,000), an allegorical collage reminiscent of Bollywood billboards and posters that proliferate in any available space in India – often superimposed on posters of past films. This is as deliciously Indian as it gets.  It sold for $110,500.

"Garden of Capillaries" by Anju Dodiya

Lot 408, “Garden of Capillaries,” by Anju Dodiya, 2005, acrylic on embroidered fabric, 72 by 42 inches

Anju Dodiya’s marvellous “Garden of Capillaries,” (Lot 408, estimate $80,000 to $120,000), is a whimsical self-portrait bearing many of her familiar materials, themes and motifs – watercolor, charcoal, upholstery, theatrical and imaginary realms, masks – that work amazingly well together and result in compelling paintings like this.  Anju Dodiya was born in 1964.  Lot 408 sold for $86,500.

"Untitled" by Basu

Lot 352, “Untitled,” by Jyothi Basu, 2006, oil on canvas, 84 by 108 inches

Lot 352, “Untitled,” by Jyothi Basu, (estimate $60,000 to $80,000), features a landscape that evokes electronic circuitry: “They (the landscapes) respond to how our advancement often forgets our history and comment at the same time on how the contemporary can only exist and is made possible by the seemingly neglected historical buttress.” (Jyothi Basu; Landscapes Towards a Supreme Fiction, Press Release, Thomas Erben Gallery, New York, 2006, reprinted from Christie’s catalog for this sale).  It failed to sell.

"Untitled" bySantosh

Lot 324, “Untitled,” by Gulam Rasool Santosh, 1983, oil on canvas, 50 by 40 inches. Estimate $15,000 to $20,000

Two paintings by Gulam Rasool Santosh, (1927-1997), are illustrated here, and are fine examples of Neo-Tantrism, that was inspired by Hindu, Buddhist and Jain concepts of dualities between male and female - Shiva and Shakti - and between macrocosm and microcosm.  Lot 324  sold for $18,750.

Untitled by Santosh

Lot 326, “Untitled,” by Gulam Rasool Santosh, 1987, oil on canvas, 70 by 50 inches. Estimate $20,000 to $30,000 

Among the fine selection of artworks on offer at this sale are many gems by Jamini Roy, and works by many more artists, unfortunately it is not possible to illustrate or cite them all. As India catapults into an era of unprecedented progress and upward mobility, it is humble, localized – extremely sophisticated - artists like Roy that will become more treasured over time.  Deepanjana Klein said: “We have some of the finest Jamini Roys at this sale,” adding that works by this highly prized artist have not been allowed to leave India since 1972.  Lot 326 sold for $40,000.

Works by Jamini Roy

Lower Right: Lot 316, “Untitled (Mother and Child),” by Jamini Roy, (1887-1972), gouache on card, 27 inches by 14 1/8 inches, with many other works by the artist

Illustrated are “Untitled (Mother and Child),” (Lot 316, estimate $8,000 to $10,000) rendered with Matisse-like virtuosity in gouache on card, which is extremely difficult to do, and “Untitled (Parvati and Ganesh with Attendants),” (Lot 314, estimate $18,000 to $25,000) encased in “faux” cotton and mirrored frame. They do not come more adorable than baby Ganesh, featured here nestling contentedly in his mother’s arms. Ganesh is possibly the most revered God in the pantheon of Indian deities, a recurring theme in garishly charming prints and marigold strewn statues in humble huts, high rise apartments, fancy mansions, teeming bazaars and shrines across the Indian sub-continent.  Lot 316 sold for $18,750.  Lot 314 sold for $32,500.

"Untitled (Parvati and Ganesh with Attendants" by Roy

Lot 314, “Untitled (Parvati and Ganesh with Attendants),” by Jamini Roy, gouache on paper with woven silk, cotton and mirror border, 17 5/8 inches by 22 inches

Shrimp and fish are to Bengal cuisine as steak and turkey are to American. Festive and religious occasions are marked by luscious shrimp or fish curries, and Bengal’s markets overflow with bounty from local rivers, streams and legendary sea creatures from The Bay of Bengal. In “Untitled (Cats with Shrimp)” (Lot 303, estimate $20,000 to $30,000), our furry friends are depicted in fine pointillist style feasting on juicy shrimp, their tails arching upwards like Saguro cacti.  Lot 303 sold for  $32,500.

"Untitled (Cats with Shrimp)" by Roy

Lot 303, “Untitled (Cats with Shrimp),” by Jamini Roy, gouache on card, 29 7/8 inches by 25 inches

This wonderful painting has equally fascinating provenance. Christie’s catalogue notes that it is from The Collection of Margaret and Robert Jaffie: “Robert, a foreign-service officer, and Margaret Jaffie, lived in India, Nepal and Pakistan, through 1955-1970. During their time in India they often visited Jamini Roy and became friends.

Deepanjana Klein said: “We are confident about this sale.”

There is every reason for confidence, because there are so many incredible paintings on offer at this sale.



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