LONDON - With the ever growing interest in and rising profile of Indian Art on the international stage - and the conspicuous success and performance of Indian Contemporary artists in particular - Sotheby’s announced that its annual sale of Indian Art in London will take place on Friday, May 2, 2008. The sale will present some 120 lots of exceptional quality and provenance which trace the course of Indian Art over the last century encompassing important works by key figures of the Modern Indian Art movement such as Francis Newton Souza and Akbar Padamsee through to the cutting-edge Contemporary names of Subodh Gupta, Bharti Kher and Jitish Kallat. The sale will also be highlighted by eleven exceptionally rare works from the collection of the late William and Mildred Archer, two remarkable scholars who played a fundamental role in bringing Indian Art to the fore. The sale is expected to realise in excess of £2.4 million.
Zara Porter Hill, Director and Head of Indian Art at Sotheby’s, comments: “The international focus on India and Indian Art continues to gather momentum and the Contemporary scene - in particular – is really flourishing. We’re delighted to respond to this spotlight and surging demand by bringing a first-class cross section of Modern and Contemporary Indian works to the saleroom this May. The sale’s highlights will be considerable; exciting and innovative Contemporary works from the likes of Subodh Gupta, Bharti Kher and Jitish Kallat; major examples from key figures of the Modern movement like Francis Newton Souza; and eleven exceptional works – with superlative provenance - from the collection of William and Mildred Archer.”
Highlighting the Modern works in the sale will be Francis Newton Souza’s (1924-2002) The Red Road which, with an estimate of £250,000-350,000, is the most valuable lot in the sale. The canvas was a gift from Souza to his wife Maria in 1962 - a period widely acknowledged as the artist’s most successful - and it was later bequeathed by Maria to the present owner. The painting was exhibited at the Hayward Gallery in 1989. Goan traditions - in addition to the mainstream of daily life in Goa - were the inspiration for Souza throughout his career. Souza described the landscape into which he was born as “a beautiful country, full of rice fields and palm trees; whitewashed churches with lofty steeples; small houses with imbricated tiles, painted in a variety of colours. Glimpses of the blue sea. Red roads curving over hills and straight across paddy fields. Morning is announced by the cock crowing; the approaching night by Angelus bells.” (F.N.Souza, Words and Lines, 1959) There can be little doubt though that Souza’s traditional Goan upbringing was as much a source of his deepest anguish as of his best work.
Two works by Akbar Padamsee (b.1928) will be further notable highlights of the Modern section. Padamsee’s style and subject matter alternates between primary and tertiary colours and between the human figure and the landscape, all of which are demonstrated in the works on offer. The artist’s Untitled oil depicts a nude and dates from 1956; it is estimated at £150,000-200,000 and is being sold by a European collector. Nudes were a recurring theme in Padamsee’s oeuvre and they all tended to depict isolated figures who had aged, endured sadness or whose bodies had witnessed the ravages of time. His figures portray an indefinable transcendence that takes them beyond mere life studies. An Untitled archetypal landscape scene by the artist, estimated at £150,000-250,000, is the result of a series of experiments juxtaposing colours and exploring textures.
Moving on to the Contemporary highlights of the sale, the star of the group will be an Untitled canvas by the much talked about Subodh Gupta (b. 1974) and the sale of this work comes hot on the heels of the artist’s triumph in Sotheby’s international sales of Contemporary Art in both London and New York earlier this year.
Dating from 2005, the Untitled oil on canvas is being sold by a European collector and is estimated at £70,000-100,000. Gupta, who is now based in Delhi, works in a wide range of media from sculpture and painting to installation, photography, video and performance and the common theme across all of these various forms is that he elevates the status of mundane objects or scenes of everyday life in India to striking contemporary images that are accessible to an international audience. Gupta creates emblems and symbols of the society around him and draws from his own experiences of the stark contrasts present in a country which combines rural poverty and isolation with growing global urbanisation. Untitled makes reference to luggage and travel, a symbol of the great changes that are being seen in India today and in particular the polarities of traditional and modern India, of urban and rural India and between the rich and the poor. Gupta is an artist with an acute social consciousness and he portrays cultural polarities with an affectionate compassion.
The international reputation of Bharti Kher (b. 1969) has grown considerably in recent years and months and she will be represented in the sale by a striking aluminium panel encrusted with bindis entitled Missing. Like Gupta, Kher takes her inspiration from a wide range of images and artifacts from her daily life and surroundings. Over the past few years she has appropriated the bindi – traditionally a mark of pigment applied to the forehead and associated with the Hindu symbol of the third eye - in all its various shapes, colours and forms to create complex works that are visually mesmerizing, technically time consuming and conceptually multilayered. The morphing of the traditional significance of the bindi from a symbol full of latent religious meaning to a mass produced object that has increasingly become a global commodity, is an interesting aspect of Kher’s work which appears to be influenced by her experiences of having lived and worked in both the UK and India. The overlying theme of Kher’s work relates to identity, both that of individuals and that of communities, and this has led her to explore issues such as class, consumer society, feminism and the relationship between tradition and contemporaneity. Many of her works possess a dry wit or ironic stance but all show a deep-rooted understanding of the culture of India from both inside and out. Missing was executed in 2006 and is expected to fetch £30,000-40,000.
Jitish Kallat (b. 1974) is another artist who is at the forefront of the Indian Contemporary art scene and his work is from a series collectively titled Humiliation Tax, with each mixed media canvas in the series dominated by the centralised image of a young underprivileged child, who is symbolic of the most vulnerable and impoverished members of Indian society. The series continues a more general theme concerning the polarities of experience within urban India that the artist has explored through several series over a period of a few years.
Executed in 2005, Humiliation Tax - II is estimated at £25,000-35,000. A striking diptych by Thukral & Tagra (b. 1976 and 1979) entitled Stop Think Go also looks set to be hotly contested. Dating from 2006, the acrylic and oil on canvas was part of Thukral & Tagra’s first exhibition in New York that addressed the problem of HIV and AIDS in India. Estimated at £30,000-40,000, the colourful large-scale painting shows couples of all genders sleeping amid Thukral & Tagra’s signature devices.