Art and Artifice

Screenshot 2018-01-19 07.31.19

Gleaner column, Dec 13, 2017

Art has been in the headlines globally, regionally and locally in the last few weeks. On the global stage Christie’s mid-November auction featuring a long-lost work by Leonardo da Vinci, Salvator Mundi, was very much in the news especially after the much hyped painting sold for US$450.3 million. Created more than 500 years ago the painting depicts Christ as Salvator Mundi (Latin for Savior of the World).

According to Wikipedia “The painting shows Jesus, in Renaissance dress, giving a benediction with his right hand raised and two fingers extended, while holding a transparent rock crystal orb in his left hand, signaling his role as savior of the world and master of the cosmos, and representing the ‘crystalline sphere’ of the heavens.”

Before the auction Salvator Mundi was estimated to sell for approximately US$100 million. Christie’s elaborate marketing campaign toured the painting around the world attracting more than 27,000 people. A YouTube video showing mesmerized expressions on the faces of those who gazed upon the artwork was circulated virally by the auction house as well.

The clever campaign certainly delivered. On the day in question a mystery buyer paid four times the estimated value of the painting leaving everyone agog about their identity. CNBC speculated that the sheer price of the painting ruled out “most everyday billionaires”. Eventually the New York Times broke the news that the da Vinci had been purchased by an unknown Saudi Prince named Badr bin Abdullah bin Mohammed bin Farhan al-Saud.

Within days this version of events was disputed by the Wall Street Journal which claimed that Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman was the buyer, with Prince Badr acting as proxy, and that the painting was intended as a gift for the new Louvre in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates (UAR). The Crown Prince has been in the news recently for abruptly arresting 159 other princes and powerful business and political rivals.

The latest news is that a statement has now been put out by Christie’s announcing that Salvator Mundi was actually acquired by Abu Dhabi’s department of culture and tourism once again contradicting the earlier story that the Saudi Crown Prince bought the rare painting as a diplomatic gift for the UAR. What remains certain is that the renowned artwork will be on display at the Louvre, Abu Dhabi.

Closer to home, speaking of diplomatic gifts, mystery surrounds rumours that a painting given by President Danilo Medina of the Dominican Republic to Prime Minister Andrew Holness on his recent state visit to Jamaica, is a fake. The painting by the Dominican master artist Guillo Perez, has become the subject of intense debate and disapproval in the Dominican art community. The country is apparently plagued by counterfeiters, with fake works having been sold to foreign collectors as well as institutional collections according to an article in the Diario Libre.

“I can give assurances that if the president of the Dominican Republic, Lic. Danilo Medina has presented a work of art by a Dominican artist, it is because he feels pride in our art and because he is interested in the world paying attention to our artists, especially when this happens in a regional market forum “said renowned gallerist Juan José Mesa to

Back home the art world is expressing consternation over the refurbishing of Laura Facey’s emancipation monument, Redemption Song, during the course of which the large bronze was painted a startling jet black. Nothing inflames art purists more than unwarranted interference with a work of art; such horror and anguish has been expressed in the public sphere over the re-pigmentation of the emancipated couple that you would think they had been painted shocking pink.

In a Gleaner article the sculptor explained that the repainting occurred during an attempt to resolve the issues of calcium build-up on the fingers of the bronze sculptures and on the walls of the surrounding water pool. The National Housing Trust, which is in charge of the monument, consulted Facey on the best way to do this. Facey recommended an expert and the rest as they say, is history. Black history.

The process to remove the marine paint and restore the monument’s natural bronze patina will be expensive. Perhaps in future artists might voluntarily monitor renovations of their works to avoid the commission of this kind of costly error. If it’s any consolation Laura, questions were also raised internationally about the authenticity of da Vinci’s Salvator Mundi because it had been painted over and refurbished so many times. This didn’t prevent it, five hundred years later, from fetching 450 million dollars.

Modern and Contemporary Indian Art by Saffronart

A look at Saffronart’s autumn auction of Modern and Contemporary Indian Art.

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.

Paintings on view at the Delhi preview of the Saffronart Modern and Contemporary Art Auction

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)

That Obscure Object of Desire by MF Husain

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):

Falling Figure with Bird by Tyeb Mehta

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?

Summer months by Arpita Singh

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).

%d bloggers like this: