M.F. Husain, Tyeb Mehta are stars at Christies

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Christie’s South Asian modern and contemporary art sale here March 20 will feature works of leading 20th and 21st century artists from various countries in the region, including India, Pakistan and Bangladesh. The sale will focus on prime examples of many different movements, styles and highlights and will include works from modern masters M.F. Husain, Francis Newton Souza, Tyeb Mehta, Vasudeo S. Gaitonde, Syed Haider Raza and Ram Kumar as well as works from leading contemporary artists including Atul Dodiya, Bharti Kher and Jitish Kallat.

A 1981 untitled painting by Mehta, the lauded master of Indian Modernism, is one of the sale highlights and is estimated at $600,000-800,000. The painting depicts two female figures intermingled, demonstrating Mehta’s formal and psychological considerations, and the two forms suggest the tangled figures of his later “Mahisasura” series.

Then there is Husain’s monumental work, “The Battle of Ganga and Jamuna”, painted in 1972 and also estimated at $600,000-800,000. This large diptych was made in the apex of Husain’s career and is a part of a series of 27 paintings he began for the 11th Sao Paolo Biennial. The painting depicts a scene of the ancient Hindu epic “Mahabharata”, detailing the cosmic civil war between forces of right and wrong.

Another highlight of the sale is a rare figurative work by Ram Kumar. “Vagabond”, made in 1956, portrays three isolated and forlorn figures, the mood emphasized by the dark and sombre pallet. It is estimated at $400,000-600,000.

Souza’s untitled nude of 1961 is of spectacular size and a highlight among the dozen paintings by the artist offered in the sale. It is estimated at $350,000-500,000.

Made in the artistic peak of Souza’s career, this work demonstrates why he was known as the “master of lines”. Souza’s paintings reflect his inventive interpretation of the human form, and like Gauguin, possess both a strong sexual aura and a sense of the primitive, the other and the unfamiliar.

The auction presents a fantastic group of works by Raza, encompassing significant phases of his career – from the 1960s abstract expressionist work to the 1980s-90s when he incorporated highly colourful ideas and elements of Tantrism, born from Indian scriptural texts.

“Bindu Pancha Tatva”, painted in 1999, has a geometrical resemblance to the abstract expressionist painting of Frank Stella and Jasper Johns, and the circle is the formal concern around which Raza structures his canvases. It is estimated at $300,000-500,000.

Bhupen Khakhar is an artist who bridges the gap between the modern and contemporary, and his unique and perceptive works have made him one of India’s most revered artists. In the untitled 2002 work offered, Khakhar employs complex spatial arrangement and bold use of colour. The artist treats both men and elephants with equal reverence. It is estimated at $120,000-150,000.

Featuring among the contemporary highlights in the auction is T.V. Santhosh’s “Traces of an Ancient Error”, a 2007 work that is estimated at $150,000-200,000.

Santhosh is internationally known as one of the rising stars of the contemporary Indian art scene with several exhibitions to his credit. His works capitalize on the attributes of post-modernism, and often address the subjects of war, catastrophe and modern society.

Kher is also gaining increasing critical acclaim as one of India’s key contemporary artists. Trained originally as a painter in Britain before moving to India, her range of work has extended to include collage, sculpture and digital photography.

As depicted in her 2005 untitled work, Kher uses the bindi, a symbolic and stylistic adornment in India, as her main aesthetic tool and transforms it to explore the issues between tradition and modernism. This work is estimated at $30,000-50,000.

Evolving from the realist tradition, Rameshwar Broota’s works have gradually moved towards the abstract, as shown in “Traces of a Man-I”, estimated at $180,000-200,000. He has developed a unique way of painting by utilizing a sharp thin blade to bring in light and forms, giving his work a luminous and translucent look.

Other contemporary highlights include Dodiya’s untitled in which he focuses on the horizon and divides the landscape into earth and cosmos. It is estimated at $120,000-150,000.

The sale consists of over 125 lots and is expected to realize in excess of $9 million.

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