London – Christie’s sale of South Asian Modern + Contemporary Art on Thursday 9 June presents a strong array of works by the celebrated masters of the Progressive Artists Group, through to the biggest names in Indian and Pakistani contemporary art, and examples by emerging artists who are offered at auction for the first time. The sale is led by Untitled (Figure on Rickshaw), 1984, (estimate: £800,000-1,200,000), one of the most significant works by Tyeb Mehta (1925-2009) to come to the market, illustrated top left. The strength of demand for Mehta was highlighted this spring when Bulls, a diptych painted in 2005-2007, set a world auction record for the artist when it sold for £1.7 million/$2.8 million at Christie’s New York. Following the landmark success of the Francis Newton Souza Estate offered in 2010, a superb selection of 54 works by Souza is featured, including 45 works which are offered directly from the family. The international appeal of this category continues to grow, with participation from buyers in Singapore, Hong Kong, U.A.E., the United States and Europe. Crossing the spectrum of artists, styles and media, estimates range from £1,000 to £1.2 million enabling collectors at every level to engage; the sale as a whole is expected to realise in excess of £4 million.
Yamini Mehta, Director of Modern + Contemporary South Asian Art: “This sale presents the market with one of the most exciting groups of contemporary South Asian Art ever to be offered at auction. The strength and breadth of the works offered is exhilarating. Compositionally, Mehta‟s Untitled (Figure on Rickshaw), is one of his greatest works and undoubtedly one of the most significant works by the artist to be sold in the last 10 years. The international art world continues to deepen its interest, understanding, appreciation and support of South Asian artists, with this year‟s Venice Biennale featuring the first Indian Pavilion and revered institutions such as the Centre Pompidou currently showing „Paris-Delhi-Bombay…‟, whilst Musée Guimet is holding a solo show of Rina Banerje.”
Tyeb Mehta is considered part of India‟s Greatest Generation – affiliated with the modernist movement of the Progressive Artist‟s Group that formed after India’s independence in 1947. Mehta’s renowned ‘Rickshaw’ series serves as an homage to the human spirit in the face of adversity and the struggle for survival. It was conceived in 1983 when he was an artist in residence near the city of Kolkata where the last vestiges of this human-pulled transport still remain. In 2008, Christie’s London sold a painting of comparable subject matter by the artist, executed in the same year as this work, which fetched £982,050/$1,943,476. The current painting presents the viewer with a private moment, when the rickshaw-puller is at rest, momentarily serving no one. The sale also includes a rare early work by Mehta dating to 1961 which featured in a seminal show of Indian Art in 1962, curated by the English art critic George M. Butcher (estimate: £180,000-250,000). This painting sign posts the well-known influence that Francis Bacon had on the artist.
In June 2010, the Estate of Francis Newton Souza set a new benchmark for the artist. This year, Christie’s is proud to present further stellar works. The most valuable lot is offered for the first time in over half a century, from the private collection of an English gentleman: Landscape 1958 (estimate £300,000- 500,000), illustrated left. Executed during a highpoint in Souza’s career, this large format painting (35⅞ x 47⅞ in.) powerfully illustrates his ability to express a deep and complex range of emotion. He demonstrates the inherent tension between nature and civilization, utilizing savage brushstrokes and a fiery palette, whilst maximizing his use of space by constructing a cityscape from a series of overlapping, highly faceted geometric forms. The overall affect is one of fractured stained glass.
Works offered directly from the Souza family comprise a treasure trove of preparatory drawings for major works including Birth, which is currently on view at the Peabody Essex Museum, Massachusetts, and may be considered the pinnacle of his oeuvre. This work is offered with another drawing; together they have an estimate of £3,000-5,000. Both the drawing and the painting were executed in 1955 and the study provides insight in to the working process of the artist and how he negotiated and composed one of his most iconic works. The most unique work offered from the family is the pair of paneled glass French doors which were once a prominent feature of the artist’s apartment/studio (estimate: £80,000-120,000) illustrated right. The doors comprise 30 drawings which provide a montage of ‘windows’ in to the artist’s imagination. A further important Modernist work is Untitled (Disciples in Landscape), 1955, by Akbar Padamsee (b. 1928), an artist whose work has recently gained new momentum and weight on the international stage (estimate: £250,000-400,000), illustrated left. A rare and early work, executed during the artist’s time in Paris, this painting is offered from the private collection of the famed contemporary art dealer Yvon Lambert.
Leading the Contemporary works are two paintings: Father, 1989, by Atul Dodiya (b. 1959) illustrated page 1 top right (estimate: £150,000-250,000) and Idol Thief I, 2006, by Subodh Gupta (b. 1964) illustrated right (estimate: £150,000-200,000). Dodiya is regarded as one of the leading artists of his generation. The current lot, which measures 48 x 72⅛ inches, was part of his first solo show, which was notably autobiographical and clearly illustrated the influences of 20th century greats such as Edward Hopper and David Hockney.
In contrast, Gupta’s celebrated artistic vocabulary is firmly rooted in the vernacular of everyday India, with his post-modernist ideas channeling inspiration from Marcel Duchamp, Joseph Beuys, Claes Oldenberg, Andy Warhol and Jeff Koons. A similar everyday ‘truth’ is captured via a very different stylistic technique but with equal resonance in Untitled (Eclipse) – 3, 2007, by Jitish Kallat (b. 1974), which conjures the essence of the reality familiar to those who know the vibrant energy of Mumbai and its inhabitants (estimate: £120,000-180,000). From the boys’ faces, colours, composite scenes and daily items together with the overall atmosphere, this monumental work (108 x 204 in.) captures the characteristically metropolitan experience on a grand scale.
In addition to other key works by leading contemporary artists featured, such as Going Away by Nilima Sheikh (b. 1945) (estimates: £60,000-80,000), the sale includes an inspiring group of works by emerging artists who are being sold at auction for the first time, from Pakistani artist Khadim Ali (b. 1978), to Schandra Singh (b. 1977) and Kriti Arora (b.1972). For full information on all works offered please see the online catalogue: