Christie's just okay at Asian art auction

Uttara Choudhury

Thursday auction saw more lively bidding than Sotheby's Indian art sale of modern paintings & miniatures which undersold at $6.3mn

The Christie's sale focused on artists from India, Pakistan, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka. Works of Indian modernists, including those by the renowned Bombay Progressives Group featured in the auction alongside works by a younger avant garde group of artists from South Asia like Lahore-based Rashid Rana who deftly explores the media of painting, photography, video and installation.

The presale estimate for the Christie's auction was pegged at $7.6 to $10.7 million. But overall, the Christie's auction on Thursday saw more lively bidding than Sotheby's Indian art sale of modern paintings and miniatures on Wednesday which undersold at $6.3 million. Christie's offered 141 lots for sale at Thursday's auction and 110 went under the hammer -- 31 works remained unsold.

Mehta's Mahisasura depicting Goddess Durga and a buffalo demon was one of the highlights at Christie's South Asian sale on Thursday and rang up $1.1 million against an upper estimate of $1.25 million. In 2005, New York hedge fund founder Ravi Chaudhuri, paid $1.6 million for Mehta's 1996 Mahisasura at Christie's, making it the first painting to cross the million-dollar-mark.

Mehta, 81, who sold Mahisasura decades ago, will not reap any financial reward from Christie's sale. Despite his cache in New York which is the capital of the art world, Mehta has refused to churn out paintings to take advantage of the appetite for his works. Vincent van Gogh, he is fond of telling American journalists, died hungry.

India's Francis Newton Souza got the second highest price for his 1958 oil on board titled Nude with Fruit which sold for $6,57,000 against a presale estimate of $3,00,000-$5,00,000. According to Shelley Souza, his daughter, inspiration for this painting might have been found in the work of the Venetian Renaissance painter Titian. "When I look at my father's nude she is both erotic and holy; she is mother, virgin, lover and wife," Shelley Souza said in a lot note.

Yamini Mehta, director of Modern and Contemporary Indian Art, at Christie's who orchestrated Thursday's sale, said the "healthy total" reflected "the market's appreciation for finely edited sales with choice works."

"Many of the top-selling works still belong to artists from the Progressive Movement, but the sale was equally driven by extremely strong prices obtained for contemporary artists. Atul Dodiya's place in the artistic pantheon has been firmly taking shape and the result achieved for Three Painters, which at $541,000 more than tripled its pre-sale estimate, only confirms his position as one of South Asia's leading artists."

"In the contemporary field, prices exceeded estimates including for Rameshwar Broota's Untitled ($2,65,000); TV Santhosh's haunting Across and Unresolved Story ($2,17,000); Shibu Natesan's Montage I ($1,57,000); Ravinder Reddy's Untitled ($1,87,000) and Rashid Rana's photo collage A Day in the Life of a Landscape ($1,33,000)."

Christie's will hold an Asian Contemporary Art sale in Hong Kong in November which will include works by Indian and Pakistani artists.
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