Indian art at Christie’s

M.F. Husain’s The battle of Ganga and Yamuna

Subhra Mazumdar

As regards the choice of works from India, the attempt has been “to present juxtapositions of what’s happening on the art scene in India”

A two-day public viewing of 24 art works, scheduled for the Christie’s South Asian Modern+Contemporary Art sale in New York on 20 March 2008, was held at The Oberoi, New Delhi, on 20-21 February. Judging by the exhibits on view, it was clear that the highlights of the forthcoming sale will reflect the different movements and styles that have been emerging in this region. As regards the choice of works from India, the attempt has been “to present juxtapositions of what’s happening on the art scene in India”, according to Christie’s international director, Asian Art, Hugo Weihe.

Even in the selection of the older masters, most are early works and belie the signature styles of their later years. A case in point is Ram Kumar’s ‘The Vagabond’ (1956), which he worked on immediately after his return from Paris, where his style had been influenced by the melancholic realism of his mentor Fernand Leger. The Tyeb Mehta too, is special, as it dates to the pre- Mahisasura period, suggestive of a transitional element. The early Raza is from his landscape period, sans the ‘bindu’.
Among the works of younger artists, the innovative choice of artistic mediums is intriguing. Atul Dodiya has exploited the strength of calligraphy, imprinting a Sanskrit couplet in Roman script on a canvas backdrop executed with charcoal and marble dust. Bharti Kher’s use of commercially manufactured felt bindis for art is a novel departure. Gigi Scaria’s large photograph, a distinct single, is an outdoor shot intermingled with a fantasy element in the form of a wooden horse.

Akbar Padamsee’s abstract work in bold reds and blacks is a distinct change from the surreal earlier works and V.S. Gaitonde’s large abstract is a signature offering. That younger artists are challenging their own strengths by moving away from tried themes is evident in the Jagannath Panda who, just an exhibition earlier, was noted for minimal and soft watercolours.

Rameshwar Broota has adopted a special technique of using a sharp blade to scratch the surface at select spots, suggestive of light and forms in an otherwise monotonal grey-brown surface. As was evident from this select showing, the Christie’s sale has a strong focus—it lies not in names or mediums but in the interpretation where, says Weihe, “the content is important, not the means of expression”.
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