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Tyeb to shine in Christie's September auction

Tyeb Mehta's artwork Untitled (Figures with Bull Head) will be a show stopper at Christie's Indian art auction in New York, writes Uma Nair.

india Updated: Aug 28, 2006 17:01 IST
Uma Nair
Uma Nair

The Christie's modern and contemporary Indian art auction to be held on September 20, 2006 at New York is replete with the highlights of masters Tyeb Mehta, Souza and Gaitonde.

With rare and emblematic works it is clear that this auction is going to be an avalanche for Indian art. Maverick Francis Newton Souza's, "Red Tower with Trees", a work belonging to 1958 is estimated at $300,000-500,000 a number of enticing works unveiled at Imperial Hotel in a historic preview at New Delhi, now recognising the reality of important collectors in the capital city of India. "Delhi is a grand hub of art collectors and connoisseurs", says Hugo Weihe, Vice President Christie's.

Christie's, the world's leading art auctioneer,set a stellar performance in Spring 2006 season, with sales in New York, Hong Kong and Dubai totalling over $26 million, clearly establishing itself as the unsurpassed market leader.

An impressive series of record prices achieved over the years, combined with a greater presence in India, have made Christie's one of the world's most prominent promoters of the importance and universal appeal of 20th and 21st century Indian artists.

As part of Christie's New York's Asia Week, the sale of Modern and Contemporary Indian Art will take place on September 20 and will offer major works from the collections of Robin Howard, C.B.E., Madame Krishna Riboud, and Mrs. Fanny D Tata amongst numerous private collections from Europe, America and India including paintings by the major Progressives: Tyeb Mehta, VS Gaitonde, Francis Newton Souza, Maqbool Fida Husain, and Akbar Padamsee. The sale is expected to realise in excess of a conservative $12 million.

Knownto the art world as the connoisseur of the avant-garde, the Indian-born Krishna Riboud was widely travelled, with impeccable taste.

Riboud became one of France's most avid supporters of avant-garde art, exploring a passion which was extraordinarily eclectic and broad but also focused on work by her fellow countrymen in a time when Indian artists were relatively unknown outside of their native country.

A descendant of the Tagores, one of India's most renowned artistic families, her vision and taste helped form the collection of Asian antiquities and textiles of the Musée Guimet in Paris.

The sale offers two unusually rare works by Vasudeo S. Gaitonde which reflect her refined connoisseurship.

The two works offered, both painted in 1971 and both Untitled (both estimates: $500,000-700,000) were created during one of the artist's most revered periods and reveal Gaitonde's signature capacity to reduce the world to its most primal elements while elevating it to spiritual heights.

Also from the Riboud estate is Untitled by Akbar Padamsee, 1963 (estimate: $100,000-150,000).

Then there is the Arts as passion and life-enhancer: Robin Howard, C.B.E. who was determined and passionate, the British epicurean, businessman and connoisseur, Robin Howard, made art the beating heart and engine of his life. Apart from modern dance – his main love - his convictions also extended into the visual arts which culminated in his patronage of Gallery One, a one-time London gallery noted for its focus on Outsider Art.

It was Howard who persuaded the Goan-born Francis Newton Souza, today one of the most venerated 20th century Indian artists, to exhibit in several celebrated solo shows at Gallery One.

Souza founded the legendary Bombay Progressive Artist Group and was eager to penetrate his work with the ideas and styles of Western Modernism. The sale offers four Souza paintings formerly from the Howard collection of which the monumental Nyasa Negress with Flowers and Thorns (estimate: $400,000-600,000) encapsulates the artist's complex attitudes towards women, religion and erotica.

This sculptural, almost mask-like nude exhibits a bold and unrestrained sexuality capturing influences of Expressionism, Primitivism as well as a stylistic ode to Picasso. Man and Woman, 1954 (estimate: $300,000-500,000) featuring Souza's portrait will also be offered, as will two landscapes, Untitled (Landscape), 1960 (estimate: $300,000-500,000) and Row of Red Houses with Trees, 1957 (estimate: $250,000-350,000).

It is in his landscapes that Souza demonstrates the inherent tension between nature and civilisation and both paintings evoke an atmosphere of dissonance and conflict. Two of the works in this collection was published in the seminal Souza catalogue by Edwin Mullins.

The show stopper however will be a large and magnificent work by Tyeb Mehta, Untitled (Figures with Bull Head), circa 1984 (estimate: $800,000-1,000,000), featured in the 1987 exhibition in Geneva, Coups de Coeur.

It prefigures Mehta's later work on the subject of Durga and Mahishasura. A superb group of works by Syed Haider Raza spans his career from early figurative landscapes to abstract expressionism to his geometric phase.

Also bound to create waves are significant works by Bhupen Khahkar and Arpita Singh—two critically acclaimed artists whose works are highly coveted by collectors. Bhupen Khakhar's Artist's Studio, 1995, (estimate: $200,000- 300,000) is an expressive dreamy autobiographical work indicative of his late style upon revealing his homosexuality.

Arpita Singh's Bhishma (estimate: $150,000-200,000) references and depicts a modern day take on the horrors of warfare and violence using the epic tale of the Mahabharatha, as an allegory.

Looking to the future is a strong selection of top contemporary artists including Subodh Gupta, Atul Dodiya, Anju Dodiya, Nataraj Sharma, Jitish Kallat, Justin Ponmany, Hema Upadhayay, Aisha Khalid and Nusra Latif Qureshi.

"Emerging artists have done spectacularly in the Hong Kong Auction", says Hugo who is excited about the prospects of an avalanche of sorts. For Indian art the registers are bound to ring loud and clear for long.

First Published: Aug 25, 2006 22:00 IST