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The Founders and The Cutting Edge of South Asian Modern + Contemporary Art at Christie's in June
Maqbool Fida Husain (b. 1915) Ragamala Series. Painted in 1960. Estimate £400,000 – 600,000. Photo: Christie's Images Ltd. 2009.

LONDON.- Christie’s sale of South Asian Modern and Contemporary Art on Wednesday 10 June 2009 showcases a wide range of captivating works by the leading artists of 20th and 21st century South Asia, primarily India and Pakistan. From celebrated masters of the Progressive Artists Group through to the biggest names in contemporary art, attractive estimates cross the spectrum of artists, styles and media with estimates ranging from £1,000 to £600,000. The sale has is expected to realise in excess of £2million.

Highlights range from Ragamala Series, 1960 by Maqbool Fida Husain (b.1915) (estimate: £400,000-600,000) and Untitled, circa 1966-67 by Tyeb Mehta (b.1925) (estimate: £80,000-120,000), to Red Carpet – 4, 2007-08 by Rashid Rana (b.1968) (estimate: £135,000-200,000) and Leap of Faith, 2005-2006 by Subodh Gupta (b.1964) (estimate: £70,000-100,000). Many works are from private collections and come fresh to the market.

Yamini Mehta, Christie’s Senior Specialist, South Asian Modern + Contemporary Art, London: The auction comes at a precipitous time as increasingly, international institutions are showcasing Indian and Pakistani art with several key exhibitions on the horizon throughout Europe. June 2009 coincides with Venice Biennale, which features both Indian and Pakistani artists while forthcoming exhibitions are in development at the Whitechapel Gallery and the Saatchi Gallery in London.”

MODERNISM: The top lot of the sale is a large panoramic scene depicting Indian musicians, Ragamala Series, 1960, by Maqbool Fida Husain (b.1915) (estimate: £400,000-600,000). Spanning both the Modern and Contemporary periods, M.F. Husain, often referred to as the ‘Picasso of India’, was a founding member of the revolutionary Progressive Artists Group (PAG). Husain developed a style that uniquely fused the cultural heritage of India and the 'foreign' influences of European Modernism, paying homage to Indian traditions in their classical forms. From the 1950s to the late 1960s he produced one of his most energetic series entitled Ragamala, from which this work originates. The series captures the artist’s fascination with rasa (aesthetic rapture) and the rich palette reflects the influence of Indian miniatures. The impact of classical Indian sculpture is also apparent in Husain’s exploration of threedimensional figures on a two-dimensional plane. This celebratory canvas combines music, sculpture and dance to create a tangible visual rhythm.

Christie’s set a world record price at auction for Francis Newton Souza in June 2008 and a record price for any Modern Indian artist when Birth, 1955, sold for £1,273,250. Souza, a one-time enfant terrible, became the only Indian artist to have a room dedicated to his works at Tate Britain in 2005. Four important works by the Souza, the intellectual backbone of the Progressive Artists Group, are featured in the sale. The figurative works include a charming Portrait of an Elder, 1961 (estimate: £30,000-60,000), which is offered from a private UK collection and Untitled, a 1957 figure in landscape from a private New York collection (estimate: £40,000-60,000). Souza's position in London's cultural scene was secured in 1955 through his first solo exhibition at Victor Musgrave's Gallery One. Two classic Souza landscapes from 1950s London comprise Untitled (The Church), 1954 (estimate: £40,000-60,000), which is offered at auction for the first time in 30 years from the collection of a European Baroness, and Untitled, a 1958 architectural landscape (estimate: £40,000-60,000).

Syed Haider Raza’s (b.1922) La Terre, 1981 (estimate: £60,000-80,000), was acquired directly from the artist, in Gorbio, by a Norwegian collector. The artist spent summers in Norway from the 1950s to 1970s and works acquired by European collectors are increasingly appearing on the market. The rich earth-toned hues reminiscent of Madhya Pradesh plains and prefiguring his later signature tantric geometric style make this an important and very desirable work from Raza's oeuvre.

Tyeb Mehta, one of India's greatest Modernist masters, (b.1925) is featured in a dynamic expressionist painting Untitled, circa 1966-67 (estimate: £80,000-120,000), which is a rare early work from a private American collection and in immaculate condition. Reflecting the influence of Francis Bacon, the palette and brushstrokes have great depth and vibrancy, while the human lovers appear to explode and then melt into the canvas - acting as forms that create space and tension.

A major early work from 1963 by Ram Kumar (b.1924) depicts Benares, the holy city which had a profound and lasting impression on Kumar’s artistic sensibility and which led to him to all but abandon his previous figural style (estimate: £40,000-60,000). Other highlights include two Untitled figurative works by Avinash Chandra (1901-1993) from 1976 (estimate: £4,000-6,000) and 1977 (estimate: £6,000-8,000), which were both acquired directly from the artist by the present European collector. Elsewhere, Untitled (estimate: £12,000-18,000) is by one of the stalwart founders of Indian modernism, Jamini Roy (1887-1972).

Sri Lankan Modernism is represented by George Keyt (1901-1993) who was a pioneer in the region, and a contemporary of the Progressive Artists Group. Keyt’s Six Dancers, 1947 is a wonderful group of works on paper gifted by the artist. Elsewhere, three abstract paper works by Nasreen Mohamedi (1937-1990) represent a rare appearance by the artist at auction. Forming one lot, which is offered with no reserve (estimate: £8,000 - 12,000), they reflect both Mohamedi’s training at London’s Central St. Martins and her interaction with British artist Peter De Francia. An artist whose work straddles the preceding and following generations, Mohamedi was prominently exhibited in Documenta XII, Kassel, Germany 2007.

CONTEMPORARY WORKS: The strong group of contemporary art provides an opportunity to acquire key works by some of best known South Asian practitioners today. Subodh Gupta is one of India's best known contemporary artists. His vocabulary is firmly rooted in the vernacular of everyday India. The monumental oversized stainless steel buckets (98 x 38 x 43 in.) Leap of Faith, 2005-2006, (estimate: £70,000-100,000) epitomize Gupta’s ability to capture tension and irony in the mundane durable items which are familiar to all echelons of Indian society. Gupta has most recently been exhibited prominently at 2009 Tate Triennale, Altermodern with a 10m high mushroom cloud comprised of vessels and also at the Serpentine. The artist will have a major solo exhibition in London later this year.

Photography is increasingly appearing in India as an artistic medium in its own right, as opposed to being a purely documentary tool for journalistic purposes. Recently integrated by Christie's in the South Asian category, photographs are an excellent entry point for works by major names in the Indian art scene, at more accessible prices. In the upcoming June 10 London auction, photographs by numerous artists will be featured, led by Red Carpet – 4, 2007-08 Rashid Rana (b.1968) (estimate: £135,000-200,000), and also includes MCD Taps, 2007 by Atul Bhalla (b. 1964) (estimate: £4,000-6,000); City Uprise, 2006 by Gigi Scaria (b.1973) (estimate: £2,000-3,000) and The Ethnographic Series, 2000-2004 by Pushpamala N. (b.1956) (estimate: £15,000-20,000), as well as works by Anita Dube, and Vivek Vilasini.

Rashid Rana is one of the best known multi-media Pakistani contemporary artists; his work is both politically engaged and conceptually engaging. Red Carpet – 4, 2007-08 (estimate: £135,000-200,000), is an extraordinary and important work by Rana, which represents the violence and beauty to be found in daily life of the region which run alongside each other in stark contrast; this work is an ironic celebration. It was inspired on the day that Benazir Bhutto returned from exile: in the morning Rana shared the sense of great optimism for a bright future; during the day he endured his first visit to a slaughterhouse and the process of desensitization towards what he saw; by the evening the joyous celebrations from the morning had been replaced by carnage – not of animals at slaughter, but by the human victims of a suicide bomb attack on Bhutto’s life. This day resulted in Red Carpet, which is created from hundreds of composite images of goats being slaughtered, arranged to form a stunning impression of the traditional tapestries of the region. This marks the first time that a photographic work is featured on the catalogue front cover for Christie’s South Asian Modern + Contemporary Art.

Atul Bhalla (b. 1964), whose physical practice engages with environmental and social concerns, is represented by the work Wash / Water / Blood, 2007 (estimate: £8,000-12,000), from his seminal performance piece in 2005. Similarly Vivek Vilasini's (b. 1964) large scale work Last Supper – Gaza, 2008 (estimate: £15,000-20,000), is an arresting re-enactment of Leonardo da Vinci's composition into a poignant present day context, by burqaclad women.

Amongst an exciting group of Modern and Contemporary Pakistani artists featured are Untitled, a 1991 canvas by Zahoor Ul Akhlaq (1941-1999), who is one of the founding figures of the Pakistani contemporary art movement (estimate: £12,000-18,000) and Untitled (Woman with Pigeons) by Jamil Naqsh (b.1939), which was a gift from the artist to the present owner. Naqsh left Pakistan and has been working in London for the past 20 years; thematically he often examines and celebrates the female form and beauty. Three works by contemporary Pakistani miniaturists include Untitled (Burqa Series), 2006 by Waseem Ahmed (b.1976); Traversing Territories – I, 2008 by Talha Rathore (b.1969) (estimate: £3,000-5,000); Untitled by Mudassar Manzoor (b.1979) (estimate: £4,000-6,000) and Maligned Monster II by Shahzia Sikander (b. 1969) (estimate: £1,500-2,000).

The Bollywood style and scale of Lost Kingdom of Navin, 2008 is by Navin Rawnchaikul (b.1971), who recently featured in the Tate Triennial exhibition, Altermodern, and is being offered at auction for the first time. This is a multi-faceted snapshot of life today which 'casts' art world luminaries within India as one would normally see film heroes and villains (estimate: £30,000-40,000). Other highlights include Sita/Medea 1, 2004 by Nalini Malani (b.1946) (estimate: £30,000-50,000), who featured in the last Venice Biennale and numerous institution shows, including the first Indian retrospective at the Irish Museum of Modern Art (IMMA) in 2007 and the Serpentine exhibition of Indian art in 2008. Elsewhere, Love Terrace – II, 2007 by Jagannath Panda (b.1970) (estimate: £30,000-40,000) skilfully combines textiles and references to traditional miniatures, displaying a modern sensibility which examines the contemporary environment and increasing urban sprawl of New Delhi. This eclectic mix of works offers museum quality pieces at levels for any collector.

Christie's | Maqbool Fida Husain | Tyeb Mehta | Rashid Rana | Subodh Gupta | Francis Newton Souza | Syed Haider Raza |

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