On March 23, Christie’s New York South Asian Modern + Contemporary Art sale will feature 91 works from the leading 20th and 21st century artists from South Asia, including artists from India and Pakistan. The sale will focus on prime examples of many different movements and styles, with highlights including works by modern masters Vasudeo S. Gaitonde, Maqbool Fida Husain, Akbar Padamsee, Syed Haider Raza, Francis Newton Souza, as well as works from leading contemporary artists Atul Dodiya and TV Santhosh among many others.
Christie’s celebrates acclaimed master Syed Haider Raza, whose Gestation, 1989, represents a highlight in this month’s sale (estimate: $600,000-800,000). In Gestation, Raza presents an arrangement of shapes and earthy colors seamlessly merging his characteristic horizontal bands with elegant obliques. In this seminal work, Raza generates an inherent rhythm and elegance, around the central bindu making it one of the finest and most striking examples of painting in his oeuvre.
Leading contemporary Indian artist TV Santhosh’s work is rampant with political commentary that reflects the complexity of current historic global crises and their local and global effects. Created such that the viewer is positioned as participantobserver, his photorealist paintings evoke unsettling moments that force the viewer to bear witness. A Theory of Antithesis, 2002, a notable highlight from the sale (estimate: $60,000-80,000) is a monochromatic self-portrait in which Santhosh juxtaposes two separate historical moments in order to generate new meaning from them. Dialogues between fact and metaphor are, perhaps, the most significant notion engendered by this composition. Untitled, 2008, another highlight (estimate: $80,000-100,000) epitomizes Santhosh’s signature style of bold, fluorescent colors set in the photographic negative, reversing light and dark areas of the canvas. The work exemplifies the artist’s oeuvre, in which historical references and haunting premonitions of battles are confused, issuing an interesting dialogue between illusion and reality.
The study of Zen Buddhism influenced Vasudeo S. Gaitonde’s thought processes and his art and initiated a kind of deconstruction seen in his use of symbols, calligraphic elements and hieroglyphs. Using both a roller and a palette knife in his painting Untitled of 1971 (estimate: $350,000-500,000), he scrupulously manipulates and mixes different mediums on the canvas, coordinating seemingly spontaneous reactions with utmost precision. The work straddles the duality of density and weightlessness and between form and formlessness, producing a tension between the translucent surface and almost primordial background.
The March sale celebrates the genius of Maqbool Fida Husain (b. 1915) by presenting some of his most notable works. Sita Hanuman, 1979, (estimate: $600,000-800,000) appears on the back cover of the catalogue and dates from an important period in the artist’s career. The work, an acclaimed tour de force, depicts Hanuman’s rescue of Sita from her abductor Ravana. Fundamental to the artist’s oeuvre, Husain’s horses are painted as unstoppable, rearing creatures in gallop. The treatment of the horse is undoubtedly informed by a 1952 sojourn in China where he studied Sung dynasty depictions of horses. This deep interest in the dynamism of a horse is also visually manifested in another notable highlight, Husain’s Untitled (Horses), from the early 1960s (estimate: $280,000-350,000).
The auction further includes an excellent, diverse selection of Modernist works led by Francis Newton Souza. Works on paper from the private collection of Julian Sherrier offers an alternative perspective of the artist, demonstrating his ability as a talented draughtsman and also providing a sense of intimacy and humor. His painting Beasts of Prey, 1963, (estimate: $200,000-300,000), monumental in form, depict the raw yet dynamic intensity of wild beasts locked in mortal combat. A towering masterpiece to be interpreted on multiple levels, the work is a testament to Souza’s ongoing belief in evolution, openly presenting ‘survival of the fittest’ with brutal integrity. Highly important within the artist’s oeuvre, Beasts of Prey is a powerfully raw depiction of the cycle of life. It is this built-in conflict in Souza’s work which supplies its restless, fighting quality where the surface of the canvas thus becomes a battleground on which are fought out the fears and passions of one man’s experience.
Akbar Padamsee’s Jeune femme aux cheveux nois, la tête inclinée, 1962, is another notable highlight (estimate: $250,000-350,000). Where form dominated color in his earlier years, through the use of thick lines, it is in the 1960s that the change to color over form emerges. During the first half of the decade, Padamsee experimented with various techniques in his paintings, employing luminescent color with sharp and violent strokes. A signature work of this period, Jeune femme aux cheveux nois, la tête inclinée evokes a sense of contemplation.
Atul Dodiya’s Cracks in Mondrian-Hyderabad, 2004-5 (estimate: $60,000-80,000), which also appears on the back cover of the sale catalogue, is from a series consisting of nine works that touch the pristine and sublime tightness of minimalist abstraction with the horror and terror of contemporary times. The resulting postmodern pastiche exemplifies the artist’s highly intellectual approach to making art, a conceptual exercise with inspirations ranging from De Stijl to Hindu mythology combine with an acute awareness of the ever-changing socio-political landscape of postcolonial India. The luminous pink patch in the lower left-hand quadrant represents Hyderabad – a Mughal suba, a former princely state, and still the most populous city in the southeastern state of Andhra Pradesh. A leitmotif of the series, this seemingly fluid, fluorescent shape, drawn from a rendition of the suba in an 18th-century atlas, gives into a network of marble dusted gray cracks and blotches that subvert the painterly order imposed by the “Western” grid. This imagery, framed by drainage pipes, is strikingly reminiscent of inner city building facades with their rapidly repaired cracks and leakages. This work is a fine example of the irony and political consciousness that pervades Dodiya’s oeuvre.
Image: TV Santhosh, Untitled, 2008 (detail). Estimate: $80,000-100,000. Photo: Christie’s Images Ltd., 2010