NASREEN MOHAMEDI (1937-1990)
NASREEN MOHAMEDI (1937-1990)
NASREEN MOHAMEDI (1937-1990)
NASREEN MOHAMEDI (1937-1990)
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PROPERTY OF A LADY
NASREEN MOHAMEDI (1937-1990)

Untitled

Details
NASREEN MOHAMEDI (1937-1990)
Untitled
gelatin silver prints on paper; triptych
16 ¾ x 22 ¼ in. (42.5 x 56.5 cm.); 16 ¾ x 21 7/8 in. (42.5 x 55.6 cm.); 16 ½ x 22 in. (41.9 x 55.9 cm.)
Executed circa 1970s; printed circa 1990s; number two from an edition of ten; three prints on paper
Provenance
The family of the artist, Mumbai
Acquired from the above by the present owner, circa late 1990s
Literature
Altaf, ed., Nasreen in Retrospect, Mumbai, 1995, p. 44 (another edition illustrated)
D. Talwar, ed., the grid unplugged, Nasreen Mohamedi, New Delhi, 2009, pp. 60, 81 (another edition illustrated)
'Stuart Shave Presents the First Solo Exhibition of Nasreen Mohamedi's Work in London', ArtDaily, 10 Oct 2010 (another edition illustrated)
Nasreen Mohamedi: Waiting is a Part of Intense Living, exhibition catalogue, Madrid, 2015, p. 229 (another edition illustrated)
J. Yau, ‘India’s Nasreen Mohamedi Belongs to Everyone’, Hyperallergic, 17 November 2013 (another edition illustrated)
S. Indrisek, 'First Take: Histories, Disrupted at the New Met Breuer', Blouin Art website, 1 March 2016 (another edition illustrated)
A. Banker and J. Gora, 'The Inaugural Exhibitions at the Met Breuer', NY Arts website, March 2016 (another edition illustrated)
N. Princenthal, 'Geometry of the Beach', Art in America, June-July 2016, p. 110 (another edition illustrated)
B. Kumar, 'Of Calligraphic Lines and Radiant Light: Nasreen Mohamedi and Islamic Aesthetics', The Met website, 3 June
2016 (another edition illustrated)
B. Kumar, 'The Elegant Complexity of Nasreen Mohamedi', Marg, A Magazine of the Arts, Vol. 68, No. 1, Mumbai, 2016, p. 22 (another edition illustrated)
Exhibited
Mumbai, Jehangir Art Gallery, Nasreen in Retrospect, 1991 (another edition)
New York, Talwar Gallery, Nasreen Mohamedi: Early Photoworks, 18 September - 20 Novermber, 2003 (another edition)
New York, Drawing Center, Nasreen Mohamedi, Lines among Lines, 19 March - 21 May, 2005 (another edition)
Brisbane, Queensland Art Gallery, Fifth Asia-Pacific Triennial of Contemporary Art, 2 December 2006 - 27 May 2007 (another edition)
Milton Keynes, MK Gallery, Nasreen Mohamedi: Notes, Reflections on Indian Modernism, 5 September - 15 November, 2009 (another edition)
London, Stuart Shave/Modern Art, Nasreen Mohamedi, 13 October - 13 November, 2010 (another edition)
New Delhi, Kiran Nadar Museum of Art, Nasreen Mohamedi, A Retrospective, 31 January - 30 November, 2013 (another edition)
New York, Talwar Gallery, Nasreen Mohamedi, Becoming One, 13 September 2013 - 25 January 2014 (another edition)
London, Drawing Room, Abstract Drawing, 20 February - 19 April, 2014 (another edition)
Madrid, Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofia, Nasreen Mohamedi: Waiting is a Part of Intense Living, 23 September 2015 - 11 January 2016 (another edition)
New York, Metropolitan Museum of Art, Nasreen Mohamedi, 18 March - 5 June, 2016 (another edition)
New York, Institute of Arab and Islamic Art, Exhibition I, 4 May - 13 August, 2017 (another edition)
Sale room notice
This work has been requested as a potential loan for the exhibition Fault Lines at the Philadelphia Museum of Art for a period of October 10, 2021 – April 10, 2022.

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Lot Essay

There is always chaos and confusion, but it is the mind and the will that bring order.
– Nasreen Mohamedi

Nasreen Mohamedi stands out as an iconoclast in the global landscape of modern art. At a time when many of her contemporaries were engaged in the figurative tradition, the non-objective minimalist idiom of her watercolors, paintings, drawings and photographs was a revelation. With a mathematician’s precision and an architect’s sensibility, Mohamedi developed a highly personalized vocabulary to record her perceptions of the world.

Over the course of her career, Mohamedi maintained a personal photography practice. Her photographs reflect her interest in modern technology, industrial production, architectural space, and her love for austere land and seascapes. They anticipate, in an almost neopictorialist way, how many contemporary artists approach photography today. Philippe Vergne describes this aspect of her work noting, “They hover between figuration and abstraction, and in many ways remind me of Ellsworth Kelly’s photography. But they came from a totally different cultural perspective and a part of the world whose modernist history I didn't know [...] I also loved that her images are humble, not bombastic or big. It was something that really stayed with me – that a humble work can also seem monumental” (P. Vergne, ‘Phillipe Vergne on Nasreen Mohamedi’, Art in America, August 2015, p. 33).

For Mohamedi, the 1960s were rich with photographic experimentation and exploration. In her diaries from the period she wrote detailed notes on the science of photography with hand-drawn diagrams, a list of photography dos and don’ts, and explanations on the workings of lenses, apertures, and depth of field. She also participated in the ‘Vision Exchange Workshop’ organized by the artist Akbar Padamsee in Bombay, where she learnt to navigate a darkroom and manipulate framing and lighting to tease out the nuances of each image. “Nasreen used cutouts from colored gelatin sheets, threads, small pen holders, and containers on photosensitive sheets or combined with an old negative to arrive at poetic images. Photography enhanced Nasreen’s understanding of perspective, of natural and artificial life, and of shadows in her explorations of nature and built environments” (R. Karode, Nasreen Mohamedi: Waiting is a Part of Intense Living, Madrid, 2016, p. 36).

After the Workshop, Mohamedi accompanied the artist M.F. Husain to the towns of Bundi, Chittorgarh and Jaisalmer in Rajasthan as the still photographer on his film, Through the Eyes of a Painter (1967), a sequence of poetic impressions of the desert. The images she captured on this trip foreshadowed some of the fundamental characteristics of her later practice. Rather than serving a documentary purpose, her work examined the natural and the man-made, committed to the liberating power of structure and geometry. “The photographs, neither representational nor abstract, are sited in simple encounters of the tangible, pared down to light and dark, seeming to reveal universal truths beyond the logical. Intensely personal, as controlled as the gaze of the artists, they reach outside the self, to perceive and connect” (D. Talwar, Nasreen Mohamedi, Becoming One, Talwar Gallery website, September 2013, accessed July 2021).

Apart from her project with Husain, photography for Mohamedi was largely a private pursuit and her work in this genre was not exhibited during her lifetime. As such, these images may be read as a visual diary or “personal notebooks that one can turn to for insight into her motivations and cite as evidence of the sustained way in which she looked at the world through an abstract system or structural order of lines, shapes, light, shade, textures, and patterns” (S. Min, ‘Fugitive Time: Nasreen Mohamedi’s Drawings and Photographs’, Nasreen Mohamedi: Lines Among Lines, New York, 2005, p. 22).

With its limited array of lines and marks, this important triptych from the 1970s testifies to the restraint with which Mohamedi approached her creative process. While some forms and texture can be distinguished in the three closely related compositions that comprise this work, others are only suggested in the shadows. The images may seem iterative, but in fact present subtle variations that intrigue the viewer with the seeming progression between frames. Using everyday objects, including what appears to be a sewing needle, the artist choreographs line and movement by meticulously calibrating the exposure and opacity of each image. Together, the three images create a visual gradient that emphasizes Mohamedi’s understanding of the versatility of the medium and her proficiency in the darkroom.

This triptych also underscores key philosophical principles around which Mohamedi structured her life and creative practice: the ephemerality of order, both natural and man-made, and the energy that diminishes as it upholds the structure of the corporeal realm. This work, like her others, holds within its fibers and pigments the artist’s devout quest for an advanced understanding of the world and the lifelong pursuit of its representation – it holds the essence of Nasreen Mohamedi.

Decades after her untimely death at the age of 53, Mohamedi’s legacy continues to grow and her work has been the subject of many major international exhibitions. In 2013, the Kiran Nadar Museum of Art, New Delhi, organized the vast retrospective Nasreen Mohamedi: Waiting is a Part of Intense Living. This show then traveled to the Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofia, Madrid, before opening at New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art as one of the inaugural shows at its outpost, the Met Breuer, in 2016. In 2020, Talwar Gallery in New York exhibited group of works by the artist including photographs, paintings and drawings. Reviewing the exhibition, Roberta Smith noted that “The significance of Mohamedi’s photographs [...] cannot be overestimated [...] Effortlessly combining abstraction and representation, expressivity and precision, mystery and fact, these images are as important as anything she did” (R. Smith, ‘Three Art Gallery Shows to See Right Now’, New York Times website, 30 July 2020, accessed July 2021).

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