A few days ago the sumptuous catalogue to Saffronart’s latest auction of modern and contemporary Indian art arrived. The Auction started today and ends tomorrow at 7.30 pm Indian time and 10 am Eastern standard time. Chock full of classics by some of the biggest names in Indian art, the catalogue not only features lavish full-colour reproductions of the artworks being auctioned but also rare photographs of the artists themselves along with biographical and sometimes critical texts on each one. It’s amazing how visual artists might become household names, but with one or two exceptions, MF Husain for instance, their visages remain unknown to us.
One of the stars of this auction for me is That Obscure Object of Desire by MF Husain pictured below. It truly is one of the best Husains I’ve ever seen. Wish i could buy it. It’s estimated at US$220,000 – 280,000 but at Saffronart Auctions works always go over the estimated value, sometimes by quite a margin.
Update: Winning bid $222,012, Rs 1,17,66,636 (Inclusive of buyer’s premium)
Throughout his artistic career, M.F. Husain has been enamoured by the idea of ‘cinema’ and everything it stands for. The artist’s own associations with the genre range from his early days in Mumbai as a cinema billboard painter and the personal friendships he forged with directors like Roberto Rossellini, Ingmar Bergman and Pier Paolo Pasolini, to the several films that he made himself, including ‘Through the Eyes of a Painter’, which won him a Golden Bear at the 1967 Berlin International Film Festival.
It is not surprising then that several of Husain’s works are influenced by films and actors that moved him. The title of the present lot, a monumental painting that recalls the scale of the billboards Husain used to paint in Mumbai, has been borrowed from a 1977 film directed by the famous Spanish director Luis Buñuel, whose surrealist and almost abstract imagery Husain greatly admired (Saffronart Catalogue):
The most expensive work in the auction is by Tyeb Mehta. Estimated at between US$1.5-2m barely an hour or two into the auction it’s already at $1.3m. Who knows where it’ll end up? Update: Winning bid, $1,817,000 , Rs 9,63,01,000
(Inclusive of buyer’s premium) Below I’ve excerpted a couple of paragraphs from his bio in the Saffronart Catalogue:
Born in Gujarat in 1925, Tyeb Mehta’s artistic career spanned several decades, styles and media. Mehta’s first forays into the world of art were as a budding cinematographer and film editor in the wake of the Second World War. Later, in part because the communal rioting during the partition of the Indian subcontinent considerably circumscribed his activities, he turned to painting, enrolling at the Sir J.J. School of Art, which was close to his home in Bombay.
Given his experiences during Partition, human manifestations of violence, struggle and survival came to hold deep meaning for the artist from a very early age. Recalling an episode from his early twenties, Mehta says, “There were elements of violence in my childhood…One incident left a deep impression on me. At the time of partition I was living on Mohammad Ali Road, which was virtually a Muslim ghetto. I remember watching a young man being slaughtered in the street below my window. The crowd beat him to death, smashed his head with stones. I was sick with fever for days afterwards and the image still haunts me today” (Tyeb Mehta: Ideas, Images, Exchanges, Vadehra Art Gallery, New Delhi, 2005, p. 340-341).
Another beauty is the painting below by Arpita Singh. It’s estimated value is US$120,000-$150,000. Let’s see what it sells for when this auction ends tomorrow. Update: The bids didn’t reach the reserve price and the painting remained unsold. The same happened I notice with Jitish Kallat’s works in this auction. Could this indicate a slight fall in value of the work of younger contemporary artists?
From the Saffronart Auction catalogue:
Arpita Singh’s paintings are informed by and address the multiple histories she has witnessed and narratives she has played a part in developing, ranging from the personal to the national. Additionally, Singh’s body of figurative work frequently draws on the private and public lives of women like herself, and on the external events that act on them. Like these lives, her dense, multilayered canvases defy any single interpretation.multilayered canvases defy any single interpretation.
Reviewing the New York show in which the present lot was first exhibited, critic Holland Cotter observed that “The psychological and the political merge in paintings by New Delhi artist Arpita Singh. So do everyday life and allegory, expressionism and ornament, historical sources from Bengal folk painting to Marc Chagall, and a formal approach that is at once unassuming and hard-worked, gauche and poised” (The New York Times, October 3, 2003).