Art/Auctions logo
Christie's New York 

South Asian Modern and Contemporary Art

March 20th, 2013, 10 AM

Sale No: 2686

"Village en fete" by Raza at far end of gallery

Lot 20, "Village en Fete," by Syed Haider Raza, an oil on canvas painted in 1964 glows at the far end of Christie's gallery

Photographs copyright Michele Leight, 2013

By Michele Leight

The warm glow cast by "Village en Fete" by Syed Haider Raza set the tone for a gallery filled with beautiful works of art by South Asian artists at Christies New York during Asia Week this spring. Painted in 1964, this canvas belongs to a critical period when Raza experimented with a less structured pictorial space and explored the play of color in nature. While teaching at the University of California, Berkeley in 1962 "Raza was deeply impacted by the work of Abstract Expressionists Sam Francis, Hans Hoffman and Mark Rothko. 'Rothko's work opened up lots of interesting associations for me. It was so different from the insipid realism of the European School, It was like a door that opened to another interior vision..." (Raza: Celebrating 85 Years, Aryan Art Gallery, New Delhi, 2007, included in Christie's catalogue for this sale).

Lot 20, "Village en Fete," has an estimate of $600,000 to $800,000. It sold for $1,859,750, well above its high estimate.

Untitled by Vasudeio Gaitonde

Lot 31, "Untitled," by Vasudeio Gaitonde, 1986, oil on canvas

The sublime painting illustrated above, Lot 31, "Untitled," by Vasudeio Gaitonde, is Property from the Collection of Ursula Bickelman, who is described in Christie's catalogue for this sale as "an art historian and pioneer in the history of Indian contemporary art. Her publication Artists Today: East-west Visual Arts Encounter published by Marg in 1987 in collaboration with the poet Nissim Ezekiel is a seminal work for the field. Further publications include studies on 20th century Indian art (2000), as well as studies of Western modernist artists and their relationship to India. This work by Gaitonde was acquired during her stay in India from 1984-89."

The influence of the artists exposure to Abstract Expressionism during his time spent in New York on a Rockefeller Scholarship is clear, and there was the additional exposure to Conceptual Art during the early 60s, especially the work of Sol Lewitt and Joseph Kossuth. Somehow all this fused into the unique iconography on view here: "Gaitonde has stood like a rock in the sea of fashion. His achievement is as real as it is historical." (D. Nadkarni, Gaitonde, Lalit Kala Akademi, New Delhi, 1983, unpaginated).

Lot 31 has an estimate of $350,000 to $500,000. It sold for $693,750.

"Doll's wedding by Husain

Lot 8, "Untitled (Doll's Wedding)," by M. F. Husain, circa late 50s, oil on canvas

Illustrated here are four of several paintings by MF Husain that did extremely well, a trend that shows no sign of abating. They are gorgeous - of course - and give proof of how prolific the artist was. Lot 8, Untitled (Dolls Wedding)," has an estimate of $300,000 to $500,000. It sold for $363,750.

Kobra by Husain

Lot 58, "Kobra," by Maqbool Fida Husain, 1968, oil on canvas

Lot 58 "Kobra," has an estimate of $350,000 to $500,000. It sold for $423,750.

Varanasi I by Husain

Lot 19, "Varanasi I," by Maqbool Fida Husain, 1973, oil on canvas

Lot 19, "Varanasi I" is a beautiful and atmospheric painting inspired by a trip the artist took to the fabled city on the Ganges with Ram Kumar in 1960. Enthralled by this ancient city that has drawn pilgrims and travelers for centuries, both artist were inspired to create a series of paintings and prints: "Husain's choice of inconography in Varanasi I ; the sun rising above the river Ganges, the priest and the boats, are immediately recognizable. Through this very simple composition, Husain conveys the very complex nature of the Hindu mythology. Both the giver of life and the carrier of the dead, Ganga represents the contradicotry forces of life and death. The headless priest, black sun and the earthy colors, brown and green, represent this duality and the bleakness and austerity, which underlines the grave complexity of the cycle of human life. Powerful and deeply esoteric, Husain captures the essence of Varanasi." (Christie's catalogue for this sale)

Lot 19 has an estimate of $100,000 to $150,000. It sold for $243,750.

Untitled by Husain

Lot 77, "Untitled," by Maqbool Fida Husain, painted circa early 1970s, acrylic on canvas

Lot 77, "Untitled," depicts a musical instrument - a sitar - and a woman in the Tribhanga pose often found in classical Indian sculpture. Women and music are frequent - and important - themes in Husain's work. This sophisticated and vibrant painting is wonderfully rhythmic, and reminiscent of Henri Matisse.

Lot 77 has an estimate of $450,000 to $600,000. It sold for $507,750.

"Houses on a Green Hill" by Souza

Lot 14, "Houses on a Green Hill," by Francis Newton Souza, 1964, oil on board

A landscape and a portrait by Francis Newton Souza are illustrated here, both of them superb examples of this influential artist's unusual style. Souza left sunny Goa to study and practice art in London, and Lot 13, "Elder," is clearly influenced by Georges Roualt, who outlined his subjects in black, inspired by the stained glass windows he admired in France's sumptuous cathedrals and churches: "He struggled in these years as a young Goan in London aspiring to be a successful painter. Elder  was perhaps a product of a nostalgic yearning in Portuguese Goa during his childhood. 'The Roman Catholic Church had a termendous influence over me, not its dogmas but its grand architecture and the splendour of its services. The priest dressed in richly embroiled vestments, each of his garments from the biretta to the chasuble symbolizing the accoutrement of Christ's passion.'" (FN Souza, 'A Fragment of Autobiography', Words & Lines, 1997, New Delhi, p.10). Lot 13 has an estimate of $30,000 to $50,000. It sold for $81,250.

Lot 14, "Houses on a Green Hill" also alludes to the Catholic imagery of FN Souza's childhood that permeates so much of his work, including the stained glass windows of the cathedrals of Goa: "The work is abstract perhaps not in appearance but in its existential undercurrents, the absence of humanity at such an epicenter of civilization, where religion, modernity and nature coexist in a perpetual struggle."
(Christie's catalogue for this sale)

Lot 14 has an estimate of $150,000 to $200,000. It sold for $339,750.

Elder by Souza

Lot 13, "Elder," by Francis Newtown Souza, 1951, oil on masonite board

Works by Bannerjee, Dodiya, Lipi and Gupta

Left: Lot 84, "In what seemed at first a monster's colonial dream, leprechauns of amber body and agile mind blew west wondering what it would be like to leave land, ocean, bird, bear, feline and the bounty of horned beasts, to leave our nature for culture," by Rina Bannerjee, 2008, mixed media on panel; Center: Lot 85, "Fools House," by Atul Dodiya, 2009, oil, acrylic, marble dust and charcoal on canvas; Front: Lot 3, "My Daughter's Cot II," by Tayeba Begum Lipi, 2012, stainless steel razor blades; Right: Lot 86, "Magic Wands," by Subodh Gupta, 2004, chrome plated cast aluminum

What a line up! Lot 84, a fantastical map of the world by Rina Bannerjee  with a long title -"In what seemed at first a monster's colonial dream, leprechauns of amber body and agile mind blew west wondering what it would be like to leave land, ocean, bird, bear, feline and the bounty of horned beasts, to leave our nature for culture" - keeps company with Lot 85, "Fools House," by Atul Dodiya,  and a cot made of razor blades by Tayeba Begum Lipi, who talks about this riveting and thought-provoking piece in Christie's catalogue for this sale:

 "Most of my works are realted to very personal issues of human life. I always like to play with contradictions as I think our life is full of absurdity...The COT is only a cold empty space to me. I see, and at the same time do not see, the nigtmare of the bloody hours and months it took for me to make this piece...I am from a large family. I'm the 11th or 12 children. I was born in the northern part of Banfladesh in a very small town called Gaibandha. I watched my nephews and nieces grow up next to me. Those days women gave birth at home with the help of a village woman. The only tool to support the delivery was a new sharp razor blade that had to be boiled on a stove before the baby was born. Perhaps this memory from my childhood stuck in my head...I love to use various materials in my art work. In the beginning, I might have been influenced by other artists who used real razor blades. But in the end, when I decided to create an object with the same material, I decided to fabricate the razor blades in stainless steel, which gave my work another dimension." (In conversation with the artist, February 2013)

Lot 3, "My Daughter's Cot II," by Tayeba Begum Lipi has an estimate of $18,000 to $20,000. It sold for $22,500.

Lot 84, by Rina Bannerjee, has an estimate of $20,000 to $30,000. It sold for $30,000.

Lot 85, by Atul Dodiya has an estimate of $60,000 to $80,000. It sold for $75,000.

Works by Brootha, Mukherjee and Jokhio
Left: Lot 89, "Unidentified Soldier," by Rameshwar Brootha, 1990, oil on canvas, scraped with blade; Front: Lot 113, "Boatmen," by Meera Mukherjee, bronze; Right: Lot 41, "Metamorphosis," by Ayaz Jokhio, 2008, printed text on paper laid on board

Three very different works of art co-exist on a gallery wall at Christies, complementing each other. Lot 89, "Unidentified Soldier," by Rameshwar Brootha, "depicts a dehumanized figure in the vestments of war, corroded by conflict. This eerily ephemeral combatant, visceral and menacing, suffers in silence. Brotha's archetypal tendrils contort in agony as they reach out to this anonymous soldier. This figure becomes a monument of mourning, a manifestation of the masculinity and the melancholy that war's destruction brings upon mankind." (Christie's catalogue for this sale).In the center above is Lot 113, "Boatmen," a bronze sculpture by Meera Mukherjeea (see below) and on the left is a work by the Lahore based artist, Ayaz Jokhio, a student of Rashid Rana. (Lot 41) "Metamorphosis," by Jokhio, combines text and image: "With an acute understanding of the local culture, he is watchful of how textbooks, classrooms, and the media circulate ideas on the meaning of nationhood and nationality in Pakistan. Like Broodthaers, Sol Lewitt and John Baldessari, Jokhio deemphasizes aesthetic and material concerns in favor of an engagement with ideas." (Christies catalogue for this sale)

Lot 89, by Rameshwar Brootha, has an estimate of $40,000 to $60,000. It sold for $50,000.

Lot 41, by Ayaz Jokhio, has an estimate of $4,000 to $6,000. It sold for $5,250.

Boatmen by Mukherjee

Detail of Lot 113, "Boatmen," by Meera Mukherjee
What makes art auctions so wonderful is that sculpture like "Boatmen" (illustrated above) suddenly appear on the market,  creating awareness in a new generation of art afficionados, or those that perhaps were not able to appreciate the genius of this sculpturess when she was creating her miniature masterpieces. Meera Mukerjee (1923-1998) is no longer with us, but her art lives on, and what a superb example of her unusual talent "Boatmen" is. Her gift did not go unrecognized by her country:

"Recipient of the Padma Shri, President's Award of Master craftsman, Abindranath Award from the West Bengal Government, Mukerjee emerged onto the Indian art scene at a time that was transitional, full of change and eclecticism. Borrowing from tradition and modernity her works have an immediacy that transcends into the contemporary. Deeply influenced by the Dhokra technique of Bastar in Madhya Pradesh, Meera Mukerjee perfected a technique in bronze that was unique. Mukherjee's innovative process and approach to bronze constituted sculpting the works first in wax, so as to preserve the tactile nature of the material upon wihch she would then build up and add surface decoration in wax strips, and rolls. The bronze finish consequently appears organic and malleable imbuing the work with lyricism and rhythm as it captures a dynamic moment in time" (Christie's catalogue for this sale). There is an atmospheric and moving photograph of Meera Mukerjee at work on her Calcutta verandah in Christie's catalogue for this sale. The technique she deployed is ancient:
"The ancient process of  making cast metal figures, known as cire perdue, is still alive in the tribal areas of India today and is known there as Dhokra, meaning 'oldest.' This tradition of lost wax casting is an ancient one in India, going back to the Indus valley civilizations. Some historians say it originated at the time of the Sumerian culture in 2000 BC. Today it is practiced by artists who live in and around Bihar, Orissa, Madhya Pradesh and West Bengal, as well as Himachal Pradesh, Rajasthan, Maharasthra, and Karnataka." ( The authors write "the above information has been extracted from the wonderful book "Indian Folk Bronzes" (New Delhi, 1991), by Shri K. C. Aryan, a leading expert on Indian Folk Art, and is still in print today. We highly recommend it."

"Moderate Enlightenment" by Quereshi

Lot 40, "Moderate Enlightenment," by Imran Quereshi, 2007, gouache on wasli

Artists like Imran Quereshi confront the complexities of our times in paintings like "Moderate Enlightenment: "The Moderate Enlightenment series deals with the socio-political issues that most of the world is currently facing. The works portray religious people carrying out everyday activities, such as exercising, enjoying nature and reading. When viewed in the context of Pakistani society, viewers may read such activities in a very different light...I have deliberately used three colors repeatedly in each of these works: red, white, and blue, inspired by the colors of the American flag" (Artist statement, Hanging Fire, p. 114)

Lot 40, "Moderate Enlightenment," by Imran Quereshi, has an estimate of $10,000 to $15,000. It sold for $35,000.

"Stitching an Undefined Border" by Santosh

Lot 88, "Stitching an Undefined Border," by T.V. Santosh, 2007, oil on canvas

The dazzling painting by T.V. Santosh illustrated above features a Muslim tailor and the indispensible tool of his trade - a sewing machine. Far from being a literal interpretation of its title - "Stitching an Unidentified Border - Lot 88 makes a political statement and is painted in tha artists reverse negative style: "The humanism distilled in his works demand that the viewer resist detachment from reality. 'We cannot be elsewhere when the event takes place. We cannot take solace, like viewers of the TV news, in the fact that we are elsewhere, in comfortable living rooms far away from the action. These paintings remind us that, morally, we are where the action is; and the action is where we are." (N. Adajania, 'No Alibis for the Image', T.V. Santosh: Unresolved Stories 2004- 2007, p. 11).

Lot 88, by T.V. Santosh has an estimate of $30,000 to $50,000. It sold for $43,750.

Untitled by Kher

Lot 2, "Untitled," by Bharti Kher, bindis on paper

Two works of art by different artists depict the the bindu - or bindi - in a unique and personal way.Lot 2, "Untitled," by Bharti Kher is a meticulously executed spiral of bindis glued on to paper, with an estimate of $30,000 to $50,000. It sold for $32,500.

Lot 21, "Tam Soonya," by Syed Haider Raza, is a somber yet magnificent example of infinite variations on this theme by the artist: "The realization of the innate force of the bindu has been an integral part of Raza's oevre since the late 1980s. The bindu, or the black point, can be variously interpreted as zero, drop, seed, or sperm, and it is the genesis of creation. The circle becomes less of a graphical component and more of a central point representing concentrated energy. It is the cosmic egg gestating within the womb of the unmanifested universe; ready for germination.The bindu is also the focal point for meditation and the principle around whch Raza structures his canvases." (Christies catalogue for this sale)

Lot 21, by Syed Haider Raza has an estimate of $ 280,000 to $400,000. It sold for $291,750. 

Works by Raza, and Reddy

Lot 6, "Untitled," by Syed Haider Raza, 1983, oil on wood panel;
Center: Lot 21, ""Tom Soonya," by Syed Haider Raza; Right: Lot 4, "Untitled," by Ravinder Reddy, 1996, painted and gilded polyester, resin and fiberglass

A more light-hearted "bindu" appears on a box - or super-sized dice - created as a gift for Raza's friends Claude Mollard and Marie-Josie Salou in 1983. Lot 6, "Untitled," has an estimate of $60,000 to $80,000. It sold for $67,500.

Illustrated on the right is a marvellous fibreglass "goddess," appropriated by Ravinder Reddy with great wit and irony from Indias rich and ancient sculptural tradition: "His women, while commanding in scale and demeanor, have less than idealized features, closer to folk than to fine art. And while he titles some pieces for the great Goddess, Devi, others are given ordinary Indian names, often ones popular in rural India. The result is a hybrid, with roots in the past but also in the pop cultural present. A heroic art with a common touch: kitsch for the ages." (H. Cotter, 'Art in Review: Ravinder Reddy, New York Times, 12 October, 2001, included in Christie's catalogue for this sale)

Lot 4, "Untitled," by Ravinder Reddy has an estimate of $60,000 to $80,000. It sold for $75,000. 


Lot 1, "Morning, Afternoon, Evening, Night (Home is a Foreign Place)," by Zarina, 1999, woodcut with Urdu text printed in black on Kozo paper and mounted on Somerset paper

The cosmos, infinity, the point or zero are subjects that often appear in Indian art, mythology and life. Christie's catalogue for this sale offers insight into Zarina's art practice and Lot 1, "Morning, Afternoon, Evening, Night (Home is a Foreign Place)": "Home is a Foreign Place can be read as a poem, from left to right, and includes symbols representing the cosmos, fate and time. Characterized by a formal austerity, these prints reflect Zarina's understanding  of space and proportion and an affinity for the line and basic geometric shapes...A retrospective exhibition of Zarina's work is currently on view at the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York, (January-April 2013). This exhibition was previously at the Hammer Museum, Los Angeles and is due to travel to the Art Institute of Chicago...In 2011, Zarina was one of the four artists chosen to represent India at the Venice Biennale. Her work is in the permanent collections of the MoMA, New York; the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York; Whitney Museum of American Art, New York; Hammer Museum, Los Angeles;Victoria and Albert Museum, London; the Bibliotheque Nationale, Paris; and the National Gallery of Modern Art, New Delhi."

Lot 1, by Zarina, has an estimate of $7,000 to $9,000. It sold for $15,000.


Lot 52, "Untitled (Bird and Tree)," by Jagdish Swaminathan, painted in the 1970s, oil on canvas

The beautiful, mystical painting of a tree with a bird hovering over it is by Jagdish Swaminathan. Christie's catalogue for this sale includes a quote by the artist: "A work of art to me is an enigma, and the power it exercises over me is magical not rational." (Artist statement, December 1964).  

Lot 52 has an estimate of $120,000 to $180,000. It sold for $327,750, well above its high estimate. Well deserved for such a delicate gem of a painting.

Prices for South Asian Art are very strong, with works by contemporary artists invigorating those by beloved and well-established masters. Christie's sale of South Asian Modern and Contemporary Art achieved $8,574,875.

Hugo Weihe, International Director of Asian Art and International Specialist Head, South Asian Modern and Contemporary Art, New York, said: "The sale of South Asian Modern & Contemporary Art was a success on all levels, with works by Modern Masters, such as Syed Haider Raza, Francis Newton Souza, and Tyeb Mehta performing extremely well. In addition to the active saleroom there was a significant amount of bidding online, with over a quarter of lots having been bought or directly underbid by a Christie's LIVE client."

Deepanjana Klein, Head of Sale, South Asian Modern and Contemporary Art, New York, commented: "In addition, sculptures and contemporary works attracted buyers who remained determined to acquire works of excellent provenance. World auction records were set for Rina Bannerjee, Tayeba Begum Lipi, Imran Quereshi, Ayaz Jikhio, and Farida Batool, a testament to the growing strength of the Sou
th Asian contemporary market."

Home  Page of The City Review