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Christies New York, Asian Art Week, Spring 2014
Francis Newton Souza: A Life Partnership in Art: The Shelley Souza Collection
Sale No: 3486, March 18 10 AM
South Asian Modern and Contemporary Art
Sale No: 2827, March 18 2014, 2 PM

Souza Christ Last Supper

Lot 52, "Supper at Emmaus," by Francis Newton Souza, 1987, acrylic on canvas
Text copyright Michele Leight; Photos copyright Michele Leight courtesy of Christie's, 2014

By Michele Leight

Glorious bouquets of spring blossoms graced Christie's galleries in anticipation of Asia Week, another feast of sumptuous treasures from China, India, Korea Japan and other nations in South Asia, all with ancient civilizations that invested in the arts. Walls lined with beautifully embroidered silk gowns, paintings of peacocks and peonies, and furniture carved with exotic creatures invite us into a world of fantasy and awesome technical and artistic creativity, Asian style. The Asian Art Week preview kicked off in a beautifully lit boardroom with a presentation of prints by Kawase Hasui that will be included in an exhibition "Water and Shadow: Kawase Hasui and Japanese Landscape Prints," in Richmond at The Virginia Museum of Fine Arts from November 15, 2014-March 29, 2015. One of Hasui's prints is illustrated below. Outside in the plaza at Rockefeller Center, Subodh Gupta's wonderful "balti" spilled over with kitchen utensils.

A dramatic painting by Francis Newton Souza, Lot 52, "Supper at Emmaus," illustrated at the top of this review, will be offered at the dedicated sale on March 18th,  "Francis Newton and Maria Souza: a Life Partnership in Art, The Shelley Souza Collection, " together with an exciting group of mixed media and oils by the artist, including many atmospheric works on paper. The collection is stunning, which is not surprising as Shelley Souza is the artist's wife, and many of the pieces are personal in nature.  Highlights of the South Asian Modern and Contemporary Art Sale" are Lot 230, "Untitled (Bull)," by Tyeb Mehta, and Lot 220, "La Terre," by Syed Haider Raza.
A stunning painting by Bharti Kher - featuring gigantic bindis -  and a winsome turbaned gent by Jitish Kailat were also displayed in this gallery, where the undisputed highlight of the sale was Syed Haider Raza's atmospheric "La Terre," prominently displayed on a wall of its own. All are illustrated in this review.

Lot 230, "Untitled (Bull)" has an estimate of $2,000,000 to $3,000,000. It sold for $2,285,000.

Lot 220, "La Terre," by Syed Haider Raza, has an estimate upon request. It sold for $3,105,000.

Hasui print

Left: A print by Hasui, that will be included in the exhibition "Water and Shadow: Kawasi Hasui and Japanese Landscape Prints" at The Virginia Museum of Fine Arts, Richmond

Francis Newton Souza: A Life Partnership in Art: The Shelley Souza Collection

Works by Souza
A collection of monochromatic works by Francis Newton Souza, including four with overtly religious subject matter at Christie's
The juxtaposition of Francis Newton Souza's uninhibited nudes, and overtly Christian subject matter such as crucifixes, Jesus, and churches, has become a trademark of this highly original Goanese artist that reveal his - and many other Indians - Christian roots. Vasco Da Gama's forays to the Indian sub-continent in the16th century, and subsequent invasions and colonial settlement by the Portuguguese, resulted in an intoxicating cultural influence that can be seen and felt today along the Western coast of India, where many churches in the Portuguese and Spanish architectural style still survive, and in beautiful Pondicherry on the East Coast, a haven of colonial architecture virtually untouched by time.

Deepanjana Klein talks about Souza

Deepanjana Klein, Christie's Head of Sale South Asian Modern and Contemporary Art,  talks about select works of art by Souza in the sale "Francis Newton Souza and Maria Souza: A Life Partnership in Art: The Shelley Souza Collection; Photo copyright Michele Leight 2014

Souza black

Lot 86, "Untitled," by Francis Newton Souza, 1965, oil on canvas

Lot 86 had an estimate of  $6,000 to 8,000. It sold for $20,000.

Alien by Souza

Lot 166, "Portrait of an Alien in Astronomical System," by Francis Newton Souza, 1984, oil on board

Although their marriage did not last long, FN Souza had an impact on mother and daughter that - fortunately for his legacy -  included a deep appreciation for his art: "Maria was born in Margao, Salcete. Her parents Thomas d'Aquino Figueiredo and Leopoldina Olimpia Sevigne had several children about whom Maria did not say much. What she did reveal was that she could not bear the oppressive atmosphere around her, male domination, exploitation by landloreds like her father of the peasants who lived on their property and tilled the fields, of their women folk who worked in the mansions of the landlords. In Bombay she found freedom from the claustrophobic embrace of family and her own caste. There is considerable difference, in the milieu and tradition within which Maria and her husband were raised; Maria's being the more feudal culture of Salcete. However, as individuals, both of them balked at authority, hypocrisy, the exploitations within their society, and the repression implicit in orthodox religion. Souza's environment, nevertheless, was more open, generous hearted, informal and adventurous. The Franciscans have left behind in Bardez, the district where he was born and raised, a tolerant, relaxed form of Catholicism, more in tune with indigenous religious practice, less intellectual and meditative than mystical, pragmatic and rooted in good works. In his youth, the English language, for instance, was far more prevalent in Bardez than in Salcete..." (Christie's catalogue for this sale)

The sense of being an "outsider" permeates some of the titles of Souza's paintings, such as Lot 166, "Portrait of an Alien in Astronomical System."
Lot 166 has an estimate of  $25,000-35,000. It sold for $ 32,500.

Untitled by Souza

Lot 81, "Untitled (Landscape),"  by FN Souza, 1973, oil on cardboard

There is nothing minimal about FN Souza. His pigments ricochet off the canvas, as if he applied them yesterday. They are immediate, sensual, warm, passionate, emotional, evoking the personality of this complex, and unique artist. Lot 81, "Untitled (Landscape)," illustrated above, is especially exhuberant, and it has an American connection:

"Souza traveled extensively in the seventies. Boarding a Greyhound bus Souza traversed the country's interstate routes and highways absorbing a kaleidoscopic vision of the American landscape as it streamed by his bus window. The image, rather than being defined by the formalism of black lines, is entirely subsumed by bright colors and heavy impasto brushwork. Painted during a time when Souza discovered the writings of the Bhagavad Gita, this painting is a direct reflection of his uncontrollable painterly passion, and over-arching sense of spirit and joy. In a trance of complete painterly ecstasy, jabbing and jiving within the moment of painterly delight, Souza anoints the surface of the painting with rich gems of color squeezed straight from the tube. The painting was made from personal memory, plucked from a particular time and space. Souza's grip tightened around the paint tube and the result was what he himself describes as "'Creative Joy,' despite a world filled with tragedy, wars, suffering and death." (F.N. Souza, 31 May 1971)

Lot 81 "Untitled (Landscape)," by Francis Newton employs brushwork worthy of Vincent Van Gogh, with luscious paint piled onto the canvas. It has an estimate of $25,000 to $35,000. It sold for $37,500.

Detail of Lot 81

Detail of Lot 81

In reading Christie's dedicated catalogue for this sale it is heartening to note that his daughter, Shelley Souza, recognizes that a parent can be less than desireable as a man or husband, yet still be a great and important artist. In her reminiscences of her parents she sets aside her personal feelings in deference to a mother who clearly suffered more from her close relationship with Souza than the daughter did:

"Your father may be a bastard as a man, but he is a great artist. Never forget that. It's your legacy as his child..." she said. (Christies catalogue for this sale)

South Asian Modern and Contemporary Art

Landscape by Raza and Untitled by Mehta
Left: Lot 238, "Grey Landscape," by Syed Haider Raza, acrylic on canvas, 1965; Center: Lot 230, "Untitled (Bull)," by Tyeb Mehta, 2000, acrylic on canvas

Illustrated above - center - is Lot 230, "Untitled (Bull)," by Tyeb Mehta, an acrylic on canvas painted in 2000.  This wonderful, energetic painting features a common subject for the artist - a mytholgical bull - this time, as in many other paintings, struggling with itself. The catalogue includes fascinating insights including the observation that the bull "is depicted by Mehta as victimized by circumstances, fate, and damnation. However, Mehta imbues his figures with a quiet dignity as he immortalizes them in his works in a timeless spatial expanse."

Lot 230 has an estimate of $ 2,000,000-3,000,000. It sold for $2,285,000.

Lot 238, "Grey Landscape," by Syed Haider Raza, an acrylic on canvas, circa 1965, is illustrated on the left, and has an estimate of $100,000-150,000. Sadly, it passed.

Lot 278, "Traces of Man - The Unknown Soldier-1," Rameshwar Brootha, 1999, oil on canvas
The wonderful painting illustrated above is Lot 278, "Traces of Man - The Unknown Soldier-1," by Rameshwar Brootha, a departure from the artist's brooding men, which have become his trademark. It is always refreshing to see something new from an artist. Christie's catalogue for this sale notes:

"After his overtly figurative and political works of the previous decades, in the 1990s Rameshwar Brootha began working on a series of large monochromatic, semi-abstract canvases with intricately textured surfaces that featured free-floating architectural forms and half-concealed figures. These paintings are not abstract, even though the human figure is not their main focus or concern. Although Brootha's 'man' may be absent or only partially visible in these existential canvases, he is represented through the remnants of his constructions. Through these half-images, Brootha explores the shadowy anonymity that society imposes on the contemporary individual, and the insidious violence of this phenomenon..." (Christie's catalogue for this sale)

Lot 278 has an estimate of $200,000 to $300,000. It sold for $245,000.

Sharma of Christie's with Khanna
Sanjay Sharma, Christie's Managing Director, India, with Lot 261, "Untitled (Round Table)," by Krishen Khanna, 1970s, oil on canvas
Sanjay Sharma, Managing Director of Christie's, India, posed with the fascinating painting illustrated above - Lot 261, "Untitled (Round Table),"  by Krishen Khanna, depicting rather jaded gentlemen dressed in dinner jackets, who are supposedly warmongers. Christie's catalogue for this sale notes: "Extending his own anti-establishment rhetoric, and laying the foundation for the acerbic political narratives of artists like Rameshwar Brootha and Arpita Singh, here Khanna points the finger at warmongers. In this painting, the artist correlates the massive displacement and loss of life that resulted from political violence in the Subcontinent with just another series of meetings and negotiations between starred generals and greedy politicians and businessmen across the conference tables far removed from the frontlines. In these dark works, as one critic noted, 'The compositions portray how (war) is 'played' around the table, the brass hats at conference at the army of field head quarters and the war mongers and ammunition magnates talking 'shop' over brandy and cigars.'" (G. Sinha, Krishen Khanna, New Delhi, 2001). Lot 261 has an estimate of $100,000 to $150,000. It sold for $112,500.

Raza and Chauduri

Left: Lot 220, "La Terre," by Syed Haider Raza, 1973, acrylic on canvas; Right: The beautiful bird is Lot 248,"Untitled," by Sankho Chauduri, steel and wooden base

Receiving the distinction of its own wall for a single painting in a gallery packed with canvases and sculpture, Syed Haider Raza's "La Terre" (Lot 220) was the star of the show, whose importance was also upheld in Christie's catalogue for this sale:

"Syed Haider Raza was a founding member of the revolutionary Bombay 'Progressive Artist's' group formed in the year of India's Independence, 1947. Now well establlished as modern master of international renown, he first came to worldwide prominence in Paris in the late 1950s and 60s after moving to the city in 1950. 'I am grateful [...] that I could come to certain recognition in the art world in France and the rest of the world. But I was still unhappy. I said to myself: Yes, it is all right to be an important painter of the Ecole de Paris, but where is your Indian background Raza? I asked myself and I started coming more and more regularly to India." (Artist statement in 'A conversation with Raza,' Raza A Retrospective, exhibition catalogue, New York, 2007, unpaginated) Whilst Raza spent over 60 years of his atistic career living in France, India and specifically the Indian landscape persisted and resonated within him and his practice. Geeta Kapur stated :[...] in nostalgia perhaps on the land he left behind when he settled in Paris, S.H. Raza opted wholeheartedly for the rhapsodic, nature based abstraction. The nostaliga was fierce and the earth was a conflagration of colors." (G. Kapur, 'Excerpt from different chapters of Contemporary Artists,' Unerstanding Raza: Many Ways of Looking at a Master, New Delhi, p.172)

Lot 220, "La Terre," by Syed Haider Raza, painted in 1973, has an estimate on request. It sold for $3,105,000, (US Private).  

Lot 248 has an estimate of $6,000 to $8,000. It sold for $7,500.

Gupta and Rana

Lot 234, "Untitled," by Subodh Gupta, 2007, oil on canvas; Right: Lot 236, "Dis-Location-2" by Rashid Rana, 2007, chromogenic print and diasec mounted

Subodh Gupta's work needs no introduction. Its visual vocabulary of stainless steel kitchen utensils and other staples of Indian culture, such as the tiffin carriers featured above, are present in every traditional - and contemporary - Indian home. They have even become the subject of popular films like "the Lunchbox." Whatever their function in a time of great change for India, these are beloved relics from India's culinary past. While they are not considered conveniently contemporary - not plastic and light, a hassel to open and close - it is imposible to think of not having a tiffin carrier in an Indian kitchen. Anachronistic and beloved, they have become indispensible:

""Predominantly, however, these quotidian vessels are use by Middle-class Indians as dishes and cooking implements in place of the porcelain or glassware brought out for guests and special occasions. The vessels are also aspirational objects of desire for the under-classes. Gupta is particularly sensitive to this societal stratum as Bihar, his home province, is associated with backwardness and lawlessness..." (Christie's catalogue for this sale)

Lot 234, "Untitled," by Subodh Gupta, has an estimate of $100,000 to $150,000. It sold for $125,000.

Lot 236, "Dis-Location-2," by Rahid Rana, a chromogenic print with diasec executed in 2007, has an estimate of $20,000 to $30,000. It sold for $27,500.

Kher and Kallat

Left: Lot 233, "Off Center," by Bharti Kher, 2008, felt bindis on painted board; Right: Lot 267, "Universal Recipient," by Jitish Kallat, 2008-09, acrylic on canvas with bronze sculpture supports

Lot 267, "Universal Recipient," by Jitish Kallat, acrylic on canvas, with bronze sculpture supports, (illustrated above right), is a personal favourite, perhaps because it is the kind of face that is imprinted in my memories of India. The proud, aspiring, tired masses that somehow hold their own - tenuously, as suggested by the expression on the subject's face - in the free-for-all of survival in the worlds largest democracy. This is the fate of so many that persists, despite all of India's fantastic success and upward mobility. What also persists is their optimism, and their heart. Christie's catalogue for this sale notes:

"Jitish Kallat's series of Universal Recipient paintings continues his exploration of this home town, Mumbai. Kallat is drawn to individuals that are often downtrodden or even dispossessed: for example, his earlier Dawn Chorus series saw the artist depict images of street urchins. However, rather than realize these children in their specific environment, or evince any sense of their reduced circumstances, Kallat seemed to celebrate their resilience and enterprising spirit..." and "The present series seeing Kallat engage with another group of Mumbai residents, security guards. These figures, older now, are the street urchins as adults - who take their responsibility as a guard very seriously, reflected in the painting by their probing gaze and stoic mein. The Universal Recipient paintings depict the security guards often seen minding residential premises in the suburbs of Mumbai, quietly observing urban life in the sprawling Indian metropolis. Their pensive features seem to encapsulate Kallat's description of them as raconteurs of Mumbai's inner secrets..."

Lot 267 has an estimate of $70,000 to $90,000. It sold for $112,500.

Illustrated on the right is wonderful Lot 233, "Off-Center," by Bharti Kher, that emits the exuberance - and joyfullness - that many associate with the artist's work. The catalogue for this sale includes a quote by the artist:

"If I could remake my artistic career, I think I would be a minimalist painter. All the art that I love comes from the tradition of reduction but I can't because I'm super maximum!"

Lot 233 has an estimate of $100,000 to $150,000. It passed, sadly.


Lot 271, "Untitled," by T.V. Santosh, 2007, oil on canvas

Lot 271, "Untitled," an unsettling - and compelling - image by T.V. Santosh, (illustrated above), has a pre-sale estimate of $25,000 to $35,000.  The depiction of males with partially covered faces in the artists's iconic paintings has become familiar. His signature - strange, jarring - colors heighten the sense of drama, the calm before the storm. Painterly, and packed with wall power, these paintings by Santosh are highly collectible. Lot 271 sold for $30,000.

The South Asian Modern and Contemporary Art sale achieved $7,242,500. 53 of the 73. The sale was 68% sold by lot and 75% by value. The top selling lot of the sale was Lot 220, "La Terre," by Syed Haider Raza, a suitable outcome for a work of this quality. Tyeb Mehta's magnificent "Untitled (Bull)" came in second, selling for $2,285,000, with a pre-sale estimate of $2,000,000 to $3,000,000.

The sale "Francis Newton Souza: A Life Partnership in Art, The Shelley Souza Collection" achieved $2,842,375. It was 91% sold by lot and 97% sold by value.

The combined total for South Asian Modern and Contemporary Art was $10,000,000.

Deepanjana Klein, Head of Sale, South Asian Modern + Contemporary Art, New York, commented, “This sale of South Asian  Modern + Contemporary Art demonstrated a tremendous amount of international interest, with buyers of the top lots bidding eagerly from around the globe for these significant works. The top lot of the sale, Syed Haider Raza’s La Terre, sold to an American collector for $3.1 million, the second highest price for the artist at auction.”

Hugo Weihe, International Director of Asian Art and International Specialist Head, South Asian Modern + Contemporary Art Department, New York, added, “The Shelley Souza Collection performed exceptionally well and saw the institutional participation, cementing Francis Newton Souza’s reputation as one of the greatest figures in Indian Modernism. It was truly a rare opportunity to acquire these exceptional works, many of which have never been seen before. The enthusiasm in the room, on the phone, and via Christie’s
LIVE™ led to a combined total of $10 million for the category of South Asian Modern + Contemporary Art this season.”