• South Asian Modern+Contemporar auction at Christies

    Sale 2194

    South Asian Modern+Contemporary Art

    16 September 2009, New York, Rockefeller Plaza

  • Lot 533

    TYEB MEHTA (1925-2009)


    Price Realised  


    TYEB MEHTA (1925-2009)
    signed 'Tyeb '94' (on the reverse)
    acrylic on canvas
    59¼ x 47 3/8 in. (150.5 x 120.3 cm.)
    Painted in 1994

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    Shortly after Tyeb Mehta abandoned his expressionistic painting style, (see lots 535 - 536) he began work on a series in which each painting's composition was built around a thick oblique line running right to left, oftentimes rendered over his figures. In these works, the diagonal allows a single figure to adopt different forms on each side. This segmentation of the canvas is continued in works from the early 80s; however, it slowly begins to become less obtrusive as his style matures. According to art critic, Ranjit Hoskote, "the diagonal leads directly to Tyeb's images of the 1980s and 1990s which carried the metaphorical resonances of what I have termed the self-agnostic self: the man and the bull who form the conjoined halves of a tauromachy; Mahisha, who is part buffalo and part god, perennially addressing the Devi, the mother goddess, in combat." (R. Hoskote, Tyeb Mehta: Ideas Images Exchanges, 2005, p. 19)

    Hindu mythological themes are prevalent in Tyeb's later work. The 5th century text, Markandeya Purana, relates the traditional Hindu tale of the Warrior Goddess Durga slaying the Buffalo Demon, Mahisha. However, Tyeb's interpretation brings to the forefront the ambiguous dichotomies between the masculine and feminine, the divine and mortal, and the human and the bestial, while also conveying a larger Liebestod theme of consummation and destruction. The twisting figures depicted in diagonal planes overlap and blur into each other in a manner that is both violent and overtly sexual. Hoskote notes, "The bodies of the protagonists slip and knot over one another, entwined as though in some exalted act of yogic origami; the disembodiment, the torsion and the inflammation become tropes of war and love." (Tyeb Mehta Paintings, Vadehra Art Gallery, New Delhi, 1998, unpaginated) Tyeb, distilling the highly complex religious themes of this story to a single frame, has recast Mahisha as a sympathetic figure in a seductive embrace with Durga. In his interpretation, both figures are besotted and both fully aware that she will vanquish him. Eventually after ten thousand years, Mahisha is slain by Durga. However, Mahisha's prior acts may also be seen in a self-sacrificial light, and as a general metaphor for the spiritual transformation that comes as a result of union with the divine.


    Formerly in the collection of The Times of India Group, New Delhi
    Christie's New York, 19 September 2002, lot 326


    R. Hoskote et. al., Tyeb Mehta: Ideas Images Exchanges, Vadehra Art Gallery, New Delhi, 2005, p. 35 and 207 (illustrated)
    Celebration: Tyeb Mehta, exhibition catalogue, Vadehra Art Gallery, New Delhi, 1996, unpaginated (illustrated)


    New Delhi, Vadehra Art Gallery, Celebration: Tyeb Mehta, February - March 1996

    Post Lot Text

    It is with a great sense of loss and pride that Christie's offers works by Tyeb Mehta following his recent passing on July 2, 2009. Over the years, Christie's has developed a charmed personal relationship with Tyeb Mehta. His works have been forerunners in sales, consistently breaking world auction records. Partly because of his meticulous and exacting nature, Tyeb has a relatively limited oeuvre of completed works in proportion to a career spanning six decades. His name therefore has become synonymous with the highest of artistic ideals and standards. At Christie's September 2002 sale, Celebration triptych (1995), made history for the field of Indian Contemporary Art becoming the first work to achieve over $100,000 and over 1 crore when it eventually sold for $317,000 to a Japanese collector. Just three years later, Christie's was yet again proud to break all auction records with Tyeb's Mahishasura (1997), which sold for $1.58 million in the September 2005 sale and became the first work of Indian art to surpass the million dollar milestone. Tyeb Mehta came to New York for the first time since 1968 to partake at the launch of his monograph, Tyeb Mehta: Ideas Images Exchanges, at Christie's Rockefeller Center. Watching the auction of Mahishasura sitting on the aisle in these very rooms with his characteristic humility Tyeb took in the applause, which lasted for many minutes and in a sense was a valediction on a long and at times arduous career. His avowed hope was that the legacy of such a spectacular price would allow his work to someday grace the walls of New York's Museum of Modern Art and other equally hallowed spaces, alongside his artistic forbearers and inspirations. To him, this moment was now a step closer for Indian art.

    Celebration, 1995
    Acrylic on canvas
    94 x 202 in. (240 x 510 cm.)
    Sold Christie's New York, 19 September 2002 for $317,500

    Mahishasura, 1997
    Acrylic on canvas
    59 x 47 in. (150 x 120 cm.)
    Sold Christie's New York, 21 September 2005 for $1,584,000

    Untitled (Figure on Rickshaw), 1984
    Oil on canvas
    59 x 47 in. (150 x 120 cm.)
    Sold Christie's New York, 11 June 2008 for GBP 982,050 ($1,928,992)

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