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Exceptional Works of South Asian Art to Be Auctioned at Sotheby's
That Obscure Object of Desire (Diptych) was inspired by the Luis Buñel film of the same name (est. $400/600,000). The painting represents the film’s final scene in which two lovers are killed by a bomb blast – shown here with yellow and blue at the top of the canvas, just before the explosion a haberdasher is seen mending a bloody veil depicted in the corner of the canvas just out of reach of the dying man’s hand. Photo: Sotheby's.

NEW YORK, NY.- On 16 September 2010 Sotheby’s will offer South Asian Art as one of the Asia week series of auctions. The sale presents 112 works dating from 18th century miniatures to paintings and sculpture from some of the leading names in Indian modern and contemporary art. Among the highlights is Cinq Sens (Five Senses), by MF Husain which was previously in the collection of Roberto Rossellini; it is the leading painting in an exceptional group of 16 works by the artist. The sale also includes a strong group of works by artists from Pakistan such as Sadequain, important paintings by the leading Modern Indian painters such as FN Souza, SH Raza, Akbar Padamsee, and Tyeb Mehta and a number of works by contemporary artists. Overall the auction is expected to fetch $6/8.8 million.

An Exceptional Group of Paintings by MF Husain
MF Husain, who celebrates his 95th birthday the day after the auction, was great friends with Italian film director Roberto Rossellini and his wife Sonali Dasgupta. He was a frequent guest at their Italian home and it was during one of these visits in 1958 that he painted Cinq Sens (Five Senses) which he then gave to the couple from whom it was acquired by the current owner. Rossellini fell in love with his future wife whilst making a documentary in India on the request of Nehru in 1956. At the time Dasgupta was married to a documentary filmmaker, whilst Rossellini was married to Ingrid Bergman. Husain played an important role in getting the two together by surreptitiously travelling with Dasgupta to Delhi to meet up with Rossellini. Soon after this meeting the couple would leave India to get married in Rome. The horse and the nude are both common in Husain paintings, however a male nude is rare in his art. The dancing figures in the background are reminiscent of frieze work found in some Indian temples, while the horse and man have similarities to Picasso’s Boy Leading a Horse in the MOMA collection. The painting can therefore be considered to be bringing together both India and the west --- echoing the cultural exchange between Husain and Rossellini.

That Obscure Object of Desire (Diptych) was inspired by the Luis Buñel film of the same name (est. $400/600,000). The painting represents the film’s final scene in which two lovers are killed by a bomb blast – shown here with yellow and blue at the top of the canvas, just before the explosion a haberdasher is seen mending a bloody veil depicted in the corner of the canvas just out of reach of the dying man’s hand.

Another major element of Husian paintings is the horse as seen in Untitled (Horse), (est. $120/180,000). The artist had been fascinated by horses since childhood and in 1952 he travelled to China where he studied the ceramic horses of the Sung dynasty as well as the equine sculpture of Marino Marini – both of which would go on to influence his paintings. The horse depicted in this work is likely to be the famed white horse of Iman Husayn ibn Ali, the grandchild of the Prophet Mohammed, who was killed by a neighboring general in 680CE. Every year many Muslim communities parade a decorated wooden horse through the streets symbolizing Iman Husayn ibn Ali’s empty mount.

Umbrellas were a further theme in Husain’s paintings that appear in a variety of media – from watercolor to oil on canvas. Untitled (Portrait of An Umbrella Series) was executed in the 1980s and was formerly in the collection of Chester and Davida Herwitz (est. $120/180,000).

Masterpieces of Modern Indian Art
Jehangir Sabavala rose to prominence in the early 1950s as European High Modernism was sweeping the international art scene. Sabavala was a distinguished member of the Indian avant-garde establishment which had been born out of the challenges of post-Partition/post-Independence India. Sundown is one of the artist’s early cubist works that captures the evening light over a port on the Adriatic Sea. It was acquired by the present owner from the artist in the 1960s (est. $120/180,000).

Untitled (Metascape) by Akbar Padamsee is from a series of works painted after the artist’s return to India from Paris (est. $300/400,000). These polychronic metascapes pare down the landscape into its most bare archetypical form and express the natural elements through color and space with the early metascapes, such as this, notable for their particularly vibrant colors.

Untitled (Head of a Man with Long Nose) is an abstract figurative painting by FN Souza that has clearly been influenced by the European avant-garde and particularly the proto-Cubism of early Picasso (est. $120/180,000). With their distinctive, oft-macabre style Souza’s heads border on the nascent Art Brut movement in Europe which promoted the so called ‘primitive’ artists.

Two paintings by SH Raza are important highlights in the sale. In the triptych Rajasthan a tightly ordered geometric composition is flanked by two panels with a larger bindu dominating the painting (est. $300/500,000). The bindu is often painted along side the upwards-pointing triangle – the lingham or masculine principle - and downwards pointing triangle – the yoni or feminine principle as can be seen in this work. This first painting in the Rajasthan series was painted in 1962 when Raza was teaching in California reflecting nostalgia for home rather than for his immediate surroundings.

The 1962 Raza painting Route de Chomerac also reflects the place that inspired the work, not where it was painted ($40/60,000). Whilst on a trip to America Raza encountered Abstract Expressionism and he started to use acrylic rather than oil paints, the current work therefore possibly represents one of the last paintings produced in oil before this shift took place.

Aripta Singh’s 1989 painting Munna Apa’s Garden showcases her bold use of color which is perhaps the most characteristic feature of her recent work (est. $100/150,000). Her work is also recognized for critiquing many aspects of modern Indian life with symbols of violence often placed near middle aged Indian women.

A Superb Selection of Indian Contemporary Art
The contemporary Indian art in the sale is led by two Subodh Gupta works. The sculpture Ok Mili is made up of over 400 hanging stainless steel tiffin boxes (est. $250/350,000). By taking a common household object and creating a striking and imposing work of art Gupta recasts our view of these mundane items – a common theme in his work. The painting Saat Samundar Par II (Across Seven Seas) explores another of Subodh Gupta’s important themes – his post modern take on luggage and the issues surrounding the nature of Indian migration it raises (est. $250/350,000).

Ravinda Reddy’s monumental head sculptures are inspired by classical Indian sculpture but their iconography is firmly rooted in contemporary urban India. The red and gold tones of Untitled (Head) from 2003 are reminiscent of the painted wooden images found in Indian temples, while the curves of the face reference the surface of many of the sculptures that cover the walls (est. $100/200,000).

Thukral & Tagra are part of a new generation of young Indian artists whose work defies easy classifications. Metropolis 1 (Diptych) utilizes their fake brand ‘Bosedk’ to blur the lines between popular culture, product placement, artistic inspiration and media hype (est. $30/40,000). The painting shows a range of products all labeled as Bosedk yet all empty – by applying the language of advertising and commerce to their work Thukral & Tagra make the viewer conscious of the collusion between the art market, retail industry, globalization and fashion branding. A further painting by the artists, I Like My Man Covered Too addresses the problem of HIV/AIDS in India (est. $20/30,000).

Muslims Around A Mosque by Bhupen Khakhar was included in the artists first European Retrospective at The Lowry Centre in Manchester (est. $150/250,000). Like many paintings by the artist this work presents complex scenes from everyday life to explore themes from modern day urban India. Muslims Around A Mosque is reminiscent of the photo collage technique often used by David Hockney – one of Khakhar’s most important influences.

Following the success of The Skin Speaks a Language Not Its Own in London in June which set a new record for an Indian female artist Sotheby’s will once again offer a major work by Bharti Kher. Imposter from 2004 depicts a pair of grinning apes with their backs to each other, with an animal skin draped over their heads and one wearing a distinctive gold chain (est. $120/180,000).

Further highlights include Jitish Kallat’s White Sweat/Inherited Allergy from 2003 (est. $60/80,000, left) and Remains by Adeela Suleman, a sculpture made using steel drain covers, tongs, nuts and bolts (est. $8/12,000).

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