The title of this Bhupen Khakhar work, interestingly, also narrates the tale behind its acquisition. Suspended on a false wall at Delhi’s Taj Hotel last week, Khakhar’s Waiting for Darshan is one of the 26 works of art that will come under the hammer at the Christie’s auction during the Asian Art Week in New York on September 17. Its US-based owner Arani Bose recalls how he “waited” for the Khakhar for months, before the veteran called him for a purchase. It was around 2001-2002; Bose was already an established gallerist in the US, with his banner Bose Pacia. Introduced to Khakhar by Atul Dodiya at the former’s studio, Bose recalls that upon requesting for a work, the Baroda artist said that “all of them were already spoken for”. Months later, at the San Francisco International Airport, the gallerist got a call from the artist, “There’s a painting that I’ve just finished. Are you still interested?”. An excited “yes” followed and the canvas was promptly transported to New York.
With the September auction, Bose, a practising neurologist, and his wife Shumita, a software engineer, will part with a handful of works from their collection that runs into hundreds. “It is not an easy decision to sell, but it is for a cause we feel passionate about, which is the + 91 Foundation that supports discourses between South Asian avant-garde, global art world and the general public,” says Bose, who is also the Director of Stroke Research at Lenox Hill Hospital.
The “visionaries” — he, Shumita and their partner Steve Pacia — have more than a couple of firsts to their credit: having opened the first gallery in New York focusing exclusively on modern and contemporary art from South Asia in 1994, they also organised the first US exhibitions of FN Souza, Manjit Bawa and MF Husain, followed by Subodh Gupta, Jitish Kallat and LN Tallur. They were also the first South Asian-focused gallery to be accepted into several major international fairs, including the the first national presence of India in the century-long history of the Venice Biennale in 2005.
“We were sitting in Venice in 2003, and realised that India has never had a pavilion there, we set out to rectify that,” says Bose.
After the 2009 meltdown, though, he shut his gallery to open the + 91 Foundation.
This is the second successive year that the couple are putting works from their collection on auction. Last September they auctioned select contemporary works through Saffronart. The Christie’s auction, Deepanjana Klein, Specialist, Head of Sale, Modern & Contemporary Indian Art, promises is more extensive and representative.
The highlights include Francis Newton Souza’s monumental masterpiece The Butcher painted in 1962 (estimate $1.5-2 million), Vasudeo S Gaitonde’s 1971 Untitled ($7,50,000-9,00,000), Nalini Malani’s Ecstasy of Radha 2 (estimate $60,000 – $80,000) and Bharti Kher’s sculpture I’ve Seen an Elephant Fly (estimate $500,000 – $700,000).