Master painter Tyeb Mehta still rules art auctions

New Delhi: Even two years after his death, Tyeb Mehta, pioneer of post-Independence modernism in Indian art, continues to rule international auction markets.

The works of Mehta, who died in 2009, still sells at prices that no Indian artist has been able to best.

A untitled figurative work by the artist sold for Rs.7.19 crore at the Saffronart online autumn auction this week.

The price trends at auctions were steered by heavyweights like S.H. Raza, M.F. Husain, Manjit Bawa, Bhupen Khakkar, K.G. Subramanyan, Arpita Singh and Ram Kumar.

Mehta has always been the darling of the auction market because of his "unusual figurative" studies, which reinterpreted Indian mythology in a global context.

Buyers and collectors find his work novel because it is grounded in the traditional cultures that have carried contemporary art forward in India, despite assimilation of western genres, a senior Delhi-based art critic and curator said.

"The element of freshness and a sense of surprise at the bold portrayal of scared and traditional iconography, verging on distortion and de-construction, drew collectors to Mehta`s art," the critic told reporters.

The decade beginning 2000 witnessed the power of Tyeb Mehta`s spiritual iconography. His canvases combined ethos and motifs from three primary faiths - Hinduism, Christianity and Islam - in the international auction market.

Analysts say Tyeb Mehta`s art scaled in stock in 2002, when one of his spiritual canvases, Celebrations, sold for Rs.1.5 crore at Christie`s.

Three years later, his work Kali, a figurative interpretation of the Indian goddess of strength in her black avatar, sold for Rs.1 crore at an online Saffronart auction.

The same year, Gesture sold for Rs.3.1 crore to Kuoni Travel chairman Ranjit Malkani at an Osian`s auction, making it the highest price ever paid for an Indian work of art.

In 2007-2008, a interpretation of the Mahishasura, the buffalo-demon slayed by goddess Durga, sold for $1.584 million, followed by another auction record of $2 million.

He was influenced by French modernism and layered his textures with brush strokes and impasto-laden expression.

"Mehta`s pre-occupation with the myth of the Goddess with contemporary relevance succeeds in evoking the primordial presence of the goddess with a shocking effect," critic Ranjit Hoskote said.

Mehta was influenced by Indian mythology in the 1980s after a residency in Shantiniketan, curator Yashodhara Dalmia told reporters.

He was a member of the Mumbai Progressive Artists` Association.


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