As the contemporary Indian art market soars to unprecedented heights, Deepanjana Klein, Specialist in South Asian Modern and Contemporary Art, finds herself experiencing life in the fast lane. Recently, this passionate academic and savvy businesswoman slowed down long enough to talk with Libby Addington about studying classical Indian art in the United Kingdom, why she loves New York City, and how it all began with a special set of colored pencils…
Deepanjana, tell me five words to describe yourself.
Positive. Honest. Humorous. Ambitious. Passionate.
Did you always have an interest in art?
Believe it or not, I did. My first encounter with an artist was with a dear family friend, Meera Mukherjee, a renowned Indian artist known for her remarkable sculptures. I would visit her studio with my mother and show my doodles from time to time. Meera bought me my first set of Rembrandt dry pastels, and from there, I was hooked.
What happened between receiving that first set of Rembrandt pastels and arriving at Christie’s New York?
I had the privilege of studying Indian art history and studio art at the two top art schools in India: Kala Bhavan in Santiniketan and the Faculty of Fine Arts in Baroda. I went on to do my PhD in the United Kingdom. My focus was always on classical Indian art; it wasn’t until I completed school and had this critical art historical foundation that I felt ready to pursue the contemporary side of things. At that point, I decided I wanted to absorb contemporary art and culture, and New York was a city that provided that experience. After working for several years as an independent curator, I joined Christie’s in early 2008.
Contemporary Indian art is fast becoming one of the most widely pursued collecting areas. Why?
As India has become a competitive force in the global marketplace, Indian art has in turn become a global phenomenon. The explosive growth in interest in the arts and the developing art market infrastructure has allowed artists to gain much more exposure and long-awaited attention on a global level.
What is it about Indian contemporary art that allows such an international audience to engage with it?
Art has no geographical boundaries; a brilliant piece of work is recognized and appreciated by all.
You have a beautiful painting by S.H. Raza in your sale. Who and what were his stylistic influences?
During a brief tenure as a visiting professor at the University of California, Berkeley in 1962, Raza became greatly enamored of Abstract Expressionists like Hans Hoffman, Mark Rothko and Sam Francis. The mood of a painting, or as Raza states, “a certain climate of experience,” is of paramount importance. His paintings from the 1960s, of which Le Maquis (1965) is a superb example, reflect his newfound freedom with color, as well as his highly emotive brush strokes. This resulted in his most important concern: the capturing of the “inner rhythm” of his subjects, primarily through the use of color. Le Maquis, which means “scrub” or “bush” in French, without a doubt generates that desirable inner rhythm.
What upcoming museum exhibitions are on your “must-see” list this season?
Francis Bacon at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, Hanging Fire: Contemporary Art from Pakistan at the Asia Society in New York, and the William Kentridge show at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art.
Where would you direct a first-time buyer interested in starting a collection from your September sale’s offerings?
An excellent choice would be this painting by B. Prabha, undoubtedly one of the most beautiful works by the artist to appear at auction. The fullness of the rural Indian woman’s body – her lips, her cheeks – is palpable and executed through forceful yet delicate brushstrokes.
Modern & Contemporary Indian Art