Modern Indian masters rule Asian art auctions


Works of masters of modern Indian art like M.F. Husain, F.N. Souza, S.H. Raza, J. Swaminathan and Tyeb Mehta are dominating global auctions of Asian art this season - whether it is Christie's, Sotheby's or Bonhams.

M.F. Husain's "The Battle of Ganga and Yamuna", estimated to rake in between $600,000 to $800,000 (Rs.32 million), was among the highlights of the preview of Christie's March 20 New York sale of modern and contemporary art from South Asia, unveiled in New Delhi Wednesday.

Also part of the sale are an untitled painting by Tyeb Mehta at $600,000- $800,000, Ram Kumar's "Vagabond", an untitled by F.N. Souza estimated at $350,000- $500,000, and a body of Tantric art by S.H. Raza, which could fetch around $500,000.

The piece de resistance of the Bonhams Dubai sale March 3-4 will be "The Elder" by Indian modernist F.N. Souza at an estimated $240,000-$300,000.

"We have a well-established reputation in sales of Indian and Pakistani art in London and we are expecting an encouraging response in Dubai. It is early days for the local art scene and it is difficult to predict the potential of the market. However, the opportunity for development is vast," said Claire Penhallurick, Bonham's director of Islamic and Indian art, in New York.

Bonhams Dubai is a joint venture between the Dubai-based Al Tajir family and the Bonhams Auction House, Britain.

The Sotheby's spring sale in New York March 19 will see Souza's "Head of a Man", estimated at $280,000 - $380,000, vie for attention with Husain's untitled painting of a nude and a horse whose bid price is $200,000-$300,000. It depicts a faceless rider, who tries to mount a rearing stallion.

An untitled work by avant garde artist Arpita Singh estimated at $200,000-$300,000 is also expected to generate interest, along with an untitled work by Raza at $100,00-$150,000 and a landscape by veteran artist Ram Kumar.

A historic gilt copper Buddha Vajrasana (seated Buddha) from Tibet belonging to the 14/15th century, estimated at $1.5 to $2.5 million, is also another artwork to watch out for in the Sotheby's spring sale, which is hosting several rare Buddhist sculptures from Tibet.

The sculpture is one of the largest and the most important early Tibetan gilt bronze figures of Sakyamuni Buddha outside Tibet.

The sale boasts of 156 paintings featuring Himalayan, Indian and Southeast Asian art, including 38 miniatures.

According to auction house Christie's, the spotlight is now on Asian art because of the resurgence in global interest in the continent.

"Indian art is placed prominently in the pan-Asian context. Buyers are slowly waking up to the fact that Indian classical art is good value for money. There are amazing things coming up in our March New York auctions," Hugo K. Weihe, international director of Asian Art, Christie's, told IANS.

It has a lot to with the renewed interest in Buddhism, Wiehe said. "Earlier, westerners collected Japanese and Chinese art that are mostly Buddhist in origin. But India is the motherland of the religion and there should be more awareness about Indian art," he said.

Contemporary young Indian artists are also "doing phenomenally well", said Jonathon Stone, Christrie's international business director. "Several new generation artists in their 40s and 50s like Atul Dodiya, T.V. Santosh and Subodh Gupta are commanding great prices in the auctions," he added.

The volume of transaction in terms of auction turnover of Indian art internationally has also been spectacular, said an industry source. In 2007, the global sale of Indian art at Christie's was $36 million.

The auction house has big plans for India and intends to increase the diversity of its collection in the country by including more categories from the far eastern and western countries for its Mumbai and Delhi auctions.
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