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Friday, July 3, 2009

Tyeb Mehta (1925 - 2009)

Tyeb Mehta passed away last week. It is unfortunate that little more than blurbs were dedicated to a man who was inarguably amongst India’s most powerful artists. Not surprisingly though, far greater column-space and airtime with gushing reportage was dedicated to his name when his works created records in auctions over the years.

Looking at the larger picture, his contribution to Indian art is indelible and he will remain a strong source of inspiration for generations of artists and art-lovers to follow.
And his name will be in print frequently: auction records will continue to fall.

I would appreciate it much if all the readers of this post would keep Tyebji in their thoughts and prayers today – a small tribute to a generous and humble human being. And a legendary artist.

I have posted a selection of some of my favourite canvases painted over the last 5 decades. These have been placed chronologically beginning with the 60's and cover his selection of enduring motifs: the falling figure, the trussed bull, the diagonal series, the rickshaw puller and the mythological figures like Kali and Mahishasura. These works offer us a view of his practice, particularly his minimal yet compellingly potent handling of line and form as it evolved.


Untitled / Oil on board / 47 x 71 inches
featured in the Christie's Indian and southeast Asian art sale, 17 Oct 2001, NY


Untitled / Oil on canvas / 49¼ x 37 1/8 inches
Featured in the Christie's Indian and southeast Asian art sale, 25 March 2004, NY

c. 1961

Rickshaw Puller / Oil on canvas / 60 x 40 inches
Featured in the Christie's Indian and southeast Asian art sale, 23 Sept. 2004, NY

c. 1972

Diagonal Series / oil on canvas / 35 x 45 inches
Featured in the Christie's Twentieth century Indian art sale, 5 Oct. 1999, London

c. 1974

Untitled / oil on canvas / 58 x 49 inches
Featured in the Christie's southeast Asian sale, 6 July 2003, HK

c. 1976

Diagonal Series / oil on canvas / 44 x 35 inches
Featured in the Christie's twentieth century Indian art sale, 5 Oct 1999, London

c. 1977

Gesture / oil on canvas / 58 x 46 inches
Featured in the Christie's twentieth century Indian art sale, 5 Oct 1999, London

c. 1977

Gesture - III / Oil on canvas / 59 x 47 inches
Featured in the Christie's Indian and southeast Asian sale, 20 Sept 2000, NY

c. 1981

Untitled / oil on canvas / 59 x 47 inches
Featured in the south Asian modern + contemporary art sale, 20 March 2008, NY

c. 1984

Untitled (Figure on Rickshaw) / oil on canvas / 59 x 47 inches
Featured in the Christie's S. Asian modern + cont. art sale, 11 June 2008, London

c. 1984

Untitled (Figures with Bull Head) / oil on canvas /59 x 41 inches
Featured in the Christie's modern and contemporary Indian art sale, 20 Sept. 2006, NY

c. 1984

Woman on rickshaw / oil on canvas / 59.1 x 47.2 inches
from the Glenbarra Art Museum collection, Japan

c. 1987

Drummer / Acrylic on canvas / 45 x 35 inches
Featured in the Christie's Indian and southeast Asian art sale, 25 March 2004, NY

c. 1994

Mahishasura / Acrylic on canvas / 59 x 47 inches
Featured in the Indian and southeast Asian art sale, 19 September 2002, NY

c. 1995

Celebration / Acrylic on canvas / 94 x 202 inches
Featured in the Christie's Indian and southeast asian art sale, 19 September 2002, NY

c. 1995

Mahisasura / acrylic on canvas / 150 cm x 120 cm
from the Glenbarra Museum collection, Glenbarra, Japan

c. 1996

Mahishasura / acrylic on canvas / 59 x 47 inches
Featured in the south Asian modern + contemporary art sale, 20 September 2007, NY

c. 1997

Mahisasura / Acrylic on canvas / 59 x 47 inches
Featured in the Indian and southeast Asian art sale, 21 September 2005, NY

Images courtesy
The Glenbarra Art Museum collection, Japan

Arvind Vijaymohan heads the Japa Arts Advisory, which offers specialised consultancy services to collectors of Indian art. / /

Monday, May 25, 2009

The Summer Auctions - II

This has been a busy week with tons of paperwork, meetings and one very interesting viewing. Exhausted might partially sum up the current state of being. But balm is round the bend: Am packing my bags for Venice which is the stunning setting for La Biennale di Venezia, the 53rd chapter of the Venice Biennale, followed by a visit to the biggest annual art event, the 40th edition of Art Basel. I round up my tour with a visit to a collector friend's estate in France. Will keep you updated on the happenings on my side of the planet.

Auctions are a fascinating turf. One can always expect the unexpected and in most cases, be prepared for the predictable. This auction season is moving in a far more optimistic gear than expected, though the Indian sales are slightly slow off the start. Best to focus on the upcoming sales. The next in line are the Christie's and Saffronart summer sales. I have listed some of the lots from these auctions which are collectable in nature.

Please note, that my company may (or not) have a direct (or indirect) bidding interest in any or all of the discussed works. It is strongly suggested that you conduct an independent analysis and condition study if interested in acquiring any of the following listings.

Christie's South Asian Modern and Contemporary Art
June 10 / South Kensington, London

Lot 15
Syed Haider Raza (b. 1922)
La Terre
Signed and dated 'RAZA '81' (lower right)
Acrylic on canvas
31¼ x 31¼ in
Painted in 1981
Estimate £60,000 - £80,000

La Terre is a strong representation of the shift of Raza's practice during the 80s towards a more structured, geometric representation of his enduring subject: Nature. The upper-most portion of the canvas offers the viewer a glimpse of the direction the master will take over the two decades to follow ('80 - '90s) while the lower half is remains firmly rooted in the pure abstract.

Interestingly, Raza's current auction record is for an earlier canvas with the same title, La Terre. A stunning abstract from 1973 which was sold by Christie's in 2008 - click here to read an older post about this work.

Lot 60
Jagdish Swaminathan (1928-1994)
Signed and dated in Hindi
Oil on canvas
43¼ x 29 1/8 in
Painted in 1983
Estimate £40,000 - £50,000

Though there have been stronger representations of the 'Bird and Mountain' subject in the sales before, I would recommend this lot as it remains a prudent selection from the series. This lot presents a rich palette, acceptable estimates and an excellent dimension (though this is a popular format which has appeared in auctions on a number of occasions).

Lot 63
Maqbool Fida Husain (b. 1915)
Ragamala Series
Signed and dated 'Husain 1960' (upper right)
Oil on canvas
34 5/8 x 75 in
Painted in 1960
Estimate £400,000 - £600,000

This is the sort of work which should be found in an auction to make the sale exceptional. From amongst Husain's finest early subjects, the Ragamala series is extremely collectable for all the expected reasons - subject, period and dimension. Additionally, this lot suitably showcases Husain's compositional mastery melded with an interestingly unexpected palette.

Lot 91
Rameshwar Broota (b. 1941)
Signed and dated 'R. Broota RAMESHWAR BROOTA 2000 Sep.'
Oil on canvas scraped with blade
60 x 26 in
Executed in 2000
Estimate £30,000 - £50,000

A more recent lot, this work presents an interesting perspective due to its dimension. Broota brilliantly juxtaposes the natural contours of the silhouette of the male torso against the rigid, angular bars: both stark but for different reasons. The lot has an acceptable presale and would make an excellent addition to a contemporary collection.

Saffronart Modern and Contemporary Indian art
Summer Online Auction / June 10-11, 2009

Lot 46
Bhupen Khakhar
Watercolor on paper
37 x 39
Signed and dated in Gujarati
Estimate Rs 8,00,000 - 10,00,000

This is a hard-to-source dimension for a paperwork by Bhupen which combines in detail, a number of recurring motifs from his practice. An excellent lot which deserves bidding action.

Lot 25
Ashim Purkayashta
Face to Face
Mixed media on canvas
71.5 x 53.5 in
Estimate Rs 14,10,000 - 18,80,000

I have listed my thoughts on Ashim's stance in my previous post and spoken about his usage of elements like the revenue stamp to mock and displace the power of the authorities. A well-represented canvas which would be regarded as an important work in the years to follow.

In the concluding summer auction post, I will discuss the Sotheby's sale. Stay tuned! Given my current co-ordinates, will sign off à la Mastroianni: Ciao :)

Images courtesy


Monday, May 18, 2009

The Summer Auctions: Part I

Just back from an interesting week in Hong Kong. The main event was Art HK 09 which for a second chapter was excellent: 110 galleries from 24 countries with an excellent mix of the community in tow. Great job, Magnus and team! With the whole doomsday squalor hanging over the market, many were unsure about what to expect but if the turnout and sales are anything to go by, I would say we are settling in a bit. There is little doubt that a number of the lesser fairs will be winding up operations this year and this trend will continue for the next 2-3 years. Regarding the general market mood, all eyes are on Art Basel: Stay tuned.

An observation I would like to share: I spent a day with a HK-based collector who has over the last 4 years acquired some interesting contemporary objects, for which my company is conducting a prelim appraisal study. He, I can say without much hesitation started as a pure investor with little much on his mind beyond the capital at play. Even in the current scenario, two of his works would safely fetch a tidy “ROI’” which I mentioned to him. “Don’t think I can move these…too much of me in them now...” This statement made me smile - and it gives me hope. The manner in which art can lightstep and silently slide into one's senses is incredible.

Now to the auction reading: Let me begin by giving context to the market with some figures. The contemporary Spring sales managed to notch strong numbers but the sum of the sales were far lesser than the achieved total last year (consider Christie's 93.7 million US which was less than one-third the figure clocked last year). On the flip side, with this year's more concentrated sales, Christie's managed to auction more than half of its lots (over 30 of the 54 lots) for above US 1 million each while Sotheby’s managed to set three world auction records. Interesting times, indeed!

On the Indian auction front, we are gearing up for 4 auctions over the approaching 3 weeks with some collectable lots on offer. I will cover the sales in three parts, using chronological order for listing. Amongst the sales guides, the most interesting is the Sotheby's catalogue with an array of modernists and contemporaries (though as always - and this is true of all the auction houses, there are a number of names who do not belong in the sales....not for a couple of years, at least).

Regarding the selection, I have listed works which strike some balance on various grades including quality, the availability factor, suggested estimates, prior auction history and provenance amongst others.

Please note, that my company may (or not) have a direct (or indirect) bidding interest in any or all of the discussed works. It is strongly suggested that you conduct an independent analysis and condition study if interested in acquiring any of the following listings.

The Christie’s Asian contemporary Art Day sale
London / May 25, 2009

Lot 1145
(b. 1959)
Sabari Sleeping with the Stars
Mixed media
65 7/8 x 52 1/8 in
Edition 3/12
Executed in 2005
Estimate $5,185 - $7,777

Dodiya is India’s most progressive contemporary...always ahead of time and trend. This editioned piece enables one to collect an interesting large-scale work of his, which would be a excellent acquisition especially at an early estimate.

Lot 1149
ATUL BHALLA (b. 1964)
Piaus - II
signed in Hindi (lower right)
sixteen digital prints on archival paper
40.6 x 30.5 cm. (16 x 12 in.) x 16 pieces
edition 3/5
Executed in 2008
Estimate $7,777 - $10,369

Water and its usage (and misuse) is a global concern and this element has been enduring motif in Atul's practice. This series captures piaus, our traditional watering-holes which normally do not catch a second glance, as a representational motif of life in India's semi-urban quarters.

Lot 1085
Butterfly MAN; Nude Female
acrylic and ink on postage stamps
10 x 9 in; 14 1/2 x 19 1/2 in
2004 & 2005-2006
Estimate $7,777 - $10,369

Purkayastha's stamp works though quirky, even humorous at outset are powerful anti-establishment statements, which voice strong opinion against the prevalent and accepted. The revenue stamp: at once a symbol of guarantee and authority is reworked and given a fresh identity by the artist, with his own indelible markings, thus effectively mocking the powers-that-be.

In part II, I will discuss the June sales: Saffronart and Christie's. In the meanwhile, am getting ready for the La Biennale di Venezia which kicks off the 5th of June and the 40th edition of Art Basel which opens on the 9th.

Images courtesy
Links //


Monday, May 4, 2009

The Ten Most Iconic Indian Works of Art

/PRE-POST NOTE/ The following post originally appeared in the Business Standard weekend supplement under the heading 'The arts fraternity picks its most Iconic works'. The featured members of the fraternity included Arun Vadehra of Vadehra Art Gallery, Neville Tuli of Osians, NGMA's Rajeev Lochan, Ashish Anand of Delhi Art Gallery, Saffronart's Dinesh Vazirani and Me: Japa Arts. This piece was featured along side the lead story titled 'India's most iconic works of art' by Kishore Singh which addressed this highly engaging and equally debatable question.


To compile a list of the 'finest' in any category is a tall order. In the case of art, it borders on the impossible. There will always be debate about which works make the cut and how some just do not fit into a top list. In order to fulfill this overwhelming task, I listed the names of the works of art from the top of my head, as they came along - this took me about under a minute. The methodology used, therefore is simple: Top-of-mind recall.

Untitled by V S Gaitonde
Gaitonde is amongst the most powerful artists to have lived and this particular work is probably the master’s finest. With its complex multilayered forms and rich earthy palette, this work offers the viewer a portal to an undiscovered ethereal spiritual realm – ever-expanding in depth and impossible to fully unravel.

Work information
V S Gaitonde (1924-2001)
Untitled # c. 1975 # Signed and dated in English and Hindi on reverse: V.S. GAITONDE 1975
Oil and mixed media on canvas # 70 1/8 x 42½ in.
Appeared in the Christie’s Modern and contemporary Indian art sale on 30/03/06
Sold for USD 1,472,000


Very Hungry God by Subodh Gupta
Created in reaction to reports that French soup-kitchens were using pork as an ingredient to deter Muslims from partaking in the meals, Very Hungry God was a break-through piece. Though Gupta had created powerful work prior to this object, Very Hungry God turned the world’s attention in his direction. The sight of this stunning object displayed in the Eglise Saint-Bernard de la Chapelle et Square Saint-Bernard in Barbes, Paris during the Nuit Blanche (an annual all-night cultural festival) is unforgettable. This work was seared permanently in our collective memories following its placement on the Grand Canal in front of super-collector François Pinault’s Palazzo Grassi during the Venice Biennale.

Work information
Subodh Gupta (1964)
Very Hungry God # c. 2006 # Stainless steel kitchen utensils # app. 1000 kilograms
The François Pinault Collection

Three Girls by Amrita Sher-Gil
Though I believe every work created by Sher-Gil is a gem, Three Girls is particularly special as it belongs to a period and body which mark a discovery of her own painterly expression - a shift from the trained to a personal language. The demeanor of resignation and the repressed expressions of her subjects are captured in a remarkably touching and sensitive manner.

Work information
Amrita Sher-Gil (1913 - 41)
Three Girls # c. 1935 # Oil on canvas
The National Gallery of Modern Art, New Delhi Collection


Mahishasura by Tyeb Mehta
Mahishasura garnered tremendous attention, courtesy the record winning bid for an Indian artwork in auction at the time. In this work, Mehta’s signature taut, measured lines and unconventionally balanced palette depict the slaying of the buffalo demon Mahisa by Goddess Durga.

Work information
Tyeb Mehta (1925)
# Mahisasura # c. 1997 # Signed, titled and dated on reverse: TYEB 97 'MAHISASURA' Acrylic on canvas;
Signed, dated and inscribed on stretcher # Acrylic on canvas # 59 x 47¼ in
The Rajiv Chaudhuri collection
Appeared in the Indian and southeast Asian art held on 21/09/05 at NY
Sold for USD 1,584,000


You can't please them all by Bhupen Khakhar
Amongst India’s finest and most sensitive artists, Khakhar’s You can’t please them all was a monumental statement, offering an autobiographical insight for the viewer into his life. Though there was a tendency to slot his works into the stereotypical ‘homosexual’ category, his practice combined irreverence with a rare honesty which gave his works a powerful and contemporary edge.

Work Information
Bhupen Khakhar (1934 - 2003)
You can't please them all # c. 1982 # Oil on canvas # 69" x 69"

Bombay Buccaneer by Atul dodiya
Dodiya is amongst the leading artists who heralded the contemporary Indian art movement – not following trends but finding their own voice and expression. His work is rooted and affected by events. Bombay Buccaneer was a result of introspection and questioning the validity of his own practice.

Work Information
Atul Dodiya (1959)
The Bombay Buccaneer # c. 1994 # Oil, acrylic and wood on canvas
The Chester and Davida Herwitz Collection, PEM


Battle of Ganga and Jamuna: Mahabharata 12 by M F Husain
This seminal work was part of a body of 29 canvases exhibited at the 11th Bienal de Sao Paulo. It marked Husain’s first interpretation of the Mahabharata which he revisited again in 1983 & ‘90. This particular title was the cover lot in the historic Herwitz Collection sale of c. 2000 conducted by Sotheby’s.

Work information
Maqbool Fida Husain (1915)
Battle of Ganga and Jamuna: Mahabharata 12 # c. 1971
Signed 'Husain 72½'; signed again in Hindi (lower left); signed 'Husain 72½'; signed again in Hindi
Oil on canvas - diptych # 74¾ x 107¾ in
Originally from The Chester and Davida Herwitz Collection.
Appeared in the Sotheby's South Asian modern + contemporary art, 20/03/08
Sold for USD 1,609,000

Titian’s Grandfather by F N Souza
A brilliant draughtsman, Souza’s portraits of the powerful are in my estimate the most collectable from amongst his preferred subjects. They powerfully rendered the hypocrisy and duality of the elite – expensive dressage which does little to conceal their wretched reality. Titian’s Grandfather is an epitome of Souza’s exceptional practice: brutal lines and demonized human studies.

Work information
Francis Newton Souza (1924 - 2002)
Titian`s Grandfather # c. 1955 # Oil on board # 48 x 41 in
Signed and dated in English (upper right and verso)
Appeared in the Saffronart Winter Auction 2007
Sold for USD 591,500

The Petro Angel series by Riyas Komu
The Petro Angel series comprises 6 large-format canvases which were presented at the 52nd Venice Biennale. These works capture an Iranian actress (from ‘Circle’, directed by Jafar Panahi) in a pensive, contemplative mood. This body of work is a strong comment on the world and times we live in. The female protagonist faces multiple hardships and a defined dual-challenge: that of being a woman in an Islamic nation; which is ravaged by internal strife and turmoil.

Work information
Riyas Komu (1971)
Designated March by a "Petro Angel" # c. 2006 # Oil on canvas
6 panels, 70.9 x 70.9 in. each
Displayed at the Arsenale at the 52nd Venice Biennale.

The Universal recipient series by Jitish kallat
This series by Kallat, who is amongst the most prodigious contemporaries present the portraits of Indian men, which carry a potent duality. His subject is the everyman whose drab existence you can read off his appearance yet the presentation is bright and celebratory in tone. A powerful body of work, these along with a selection of installations and paperwork were part of his first solo exhibition with the Haunch of Venison in Zurich in 2008.

Text courtesy: Kishore Singh for Business Standard /
Images courtesy: The artists and respective current owners

Links to original material
India's most iconic works of art by Kishore Singh

The arts fraternity picks its most Iconic works


Friday, April 24, 2009

Roerich Record

In the midst of the Russian art week, the Christie's Russian sale held on April 24 at their New York salesroom raised USD 13.2 million (a whisker above the higher estimate) for 269 sold lots which included a mix of icons, Fabergé, cloisonné and guilloché. With the number of oil-rich, homegrown Russian billionaires lesser by more than one-third, the sale estimates were conservative, clearly reduced from the 2008 year-end sale season.

Of interest were 5 lots by the Roerichs - 4 works by the artist and philosopher Nicholas Roerich (1874 - 1947) and a single by his youngest son, Svetoslav Roerich (1904 - 1993). The highlight amongst these (and the collective sale as well) was the intensely bid-upon canvas by Svetoslav which achieved his world auction highest at USD 2.99 million (well above double the pre-sale tag of USD 1.1 mill). Interestingly, the previous auction best for Roerich jr. had been clocked only 2 days earlier at the Sotheby’s Russian sale at a far lighter figure of USD 266,500. Clearly, the recessionary times and shrinking fortunes (the 100 richest Russians have lost over 70% of their wealth post-meltdown) had little impact on a far-sighted collecting plan.

Portrait of Nicholas Roerich in a Tibetan Robe Tempera on canvas 60 x 49 in c. 1933

The work titled Portrait of Nicholas Roerich in a Tibetan Robe from 1933 which was on view at the Nicholas Roerich Museum, NY for nearly two decades (on loan from the erstwhile owner) was acquired for a private Russian collection. This work is a stunning picture which presents the artist's seated father dressed in Tibetean finery against an imagined architectural backdrop. While Nicholas was known for his mountain-studies, Svetoslav was a celebrated portraitist. His subjects included his parents - Nicholas and Helena, his wife (the legendary actress Devika Rani) and a number of iconic Indian figures including Indira Gandhi and Jawaharlal Nehru (the pictures are on display within the Central Parliament Hall, New Delhi)

Russians by birth, the Roerichs made India their home, with family estates in Himachal Pradesh and Karnataka. Roerich Sr. was an avid traveller and embarked on an epic Asian expedition in the 1920s which eventually ended in H.P. where he founded the the Himalayan Research Institute. He created over 7000 works during his lifetime, the most prized of which are mountainscapes, studies of the Himalayan peaks in particular. A large body of his work can be viewed at the Roerich Hall Estate in Nagar, Kulu Valley.

In other news of interest, if you happen to be in windy Frisco before end June, please visit the Ranjani Shettar show at SFMOMA which features her new sculptural installations. Till July07/09

For additional information on #, please click on the listed links
Nicholas Roerich
Svetoslav Roerich

The Christie's Russian Art Sale
Image courtesy © Christie's


Monday, April 20, 2009

The Persol Art Project

The famed Italian eyewear company, Persol has rested on the noses of celebrities, fictional and otherwise including George Clooney, the Terminator, Steve Mcqueen and most recently, Bond. James Bond. I fell in love with the signature silver arrow during my first viewing of La Dolce Vita and have owned one since. (FTR wearing it will not inch you within the vicinity of Mastroianni cool.)

The spiffy webface of the Persol project

Post-meander, time for the point: Luxury and art have been in a close can-can for the farthest throwback now. In keeping with tradition, the company has presented a project titled A Work of Persol within which 9 contemporary artists of varied artistic disciplines from around the globe have presented a work each. The project is an ode to the deeply personal process of artistic creation and the creative journey that is privy to a chosen few - rarely the audience in the gallery. The line-up includes a clutch of talent: the Brazilian Fefe Talavera (massive-format street-art), the German Tjorg Douglas Beer (installations which can sometimes pack a wham), Chinese photographer Danwen Xing and the collagist Francesca Gabbiani (incredibly meticulous process and richly detailed work).

What makes this project of interest is that the popular Indian contemporary duo, Thukral + Tagra are part of the line-up. To learn more about this project and hear the DoubleT talk about their observations, inspirations, practice and personal connect to their subjects, visit the project website at

Trivia: Persol means 'For the Sun' in Italian'

Images and weblink courtesy: Persol / A Work of Persol


Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Ranbir Kaleka Preview: Delhi

A show to catch in Delhi is Ranbir Kaleka's Reading Room at Nature Morte. There are 4 new works on view in the solo (a much-awaited showing after well over a decade) which closes on Saturday the 18th.

Itinerant Librarian's Dilemma of Choice and Refusal
c. 2009, Acrylic and oil on canvas with two wood wing-doors with acrylic mirrors
center image: 36 x 24 in side doors: 27 x 13 in. each

The works exhibit a blend of retrospect, deliverance, pain, liberation and whimsy against a phantasmagorical landscape. The protagonists in the larger works seem to be endowed with prestidigitatious talents and appear entirely capable of lofting unsuspecting viewers into the depicted Delphic panoramas. The works seem to lead the viewer on, inviting her/him to step into their large-scale bounds which are laden with deliciously unexpected (sometimes-wicked, always-interesting) elements, which might emerge as mnemonics of a fantastical bygone for some/many in the audience.

The work which held me in a state of thorough rapture is Ochre Dust in a Delusional Paradise. A few private minutes with this canvas should leave you suitably mesmerized.

Reading Man
New works by Ranbir Kaleka
till April 18th 2009
Nature Morte
New Delhi
10.00 am - 6.00 pm
The show will open at Bose Pacia, New York on May 14th and continue till June 27th.