Silence Please
oil on canvas
47 x 35 1/4 in. (119.4 x 89.5 cm.)
Painted in 1985
Gallery 7, Mumbai
Sotheby's New York, 16 September 1999, lot 229, sold to benefit the PRASAD Project
Acquired from the above by the present owner
Mumbai, Gallery 7, Pushpamala N., Atul Dodiya and Akkitham Vasudevan, 1985

Brought to you by

Nishad Avari
Nishad Avari Specialist, Head of Department

Lot Essay

Atul Dodiya is one of India’s most accomplished contemporary artists, with a multifaceted and incisive practice that spans more than four decades. From the very beginning of his career in the mid-1980s, following his graduation from the Sir J.J. School of Art in Mumbai, Dodiya has engaged his viewers by challenging them to broaden their conceptions of art by confronting and navigating the various ways in which it can hold a mirror to society and the world. Frequently, the artist underlines the multiplicity of meanings a work of art can carry with touches of irony and humor, citing well-known pieces from the modern Indian and international canons in his paintings and assemblages, or having viewers physically manipulate his works to see them in their entirety. As he notes, “The whole act of seeing or looking at a work of art is so complex. I want [...] to make the viewer more conscious of the act of looking [...] I am also playing with the absurdity of claiming understanding to any work of art” (Artist statement, P. Nagy, iCon: India Contemporary, India at the 51st Venice Biennale, New York, 2005, p. 9).

In the present lot, one of Dodiya’s earliest paintings, the artist masterfully uses chiaroscuro and a muted palette to offer a new perspective on the interior scenes seen in the works of Dutch Masters like Johannes Vermeer, Gabriel Metsu and Jan Steen. In his flat application of paint, banal subject and vocabulary bordering on photorealism, Dodiya also pays tribute to Bhupen Khakhar, Edward Hopper and David Hockney, artists whose work he greatly admires and continues to draw inspiration from.

Here, Dodiya paints a quiet interior, with a sculpted head on a pedestal surrounded by a group of potted plants, juxtaposing the mundane with the transportive experience a work of art can offer. A partially visible sign in the corner reads ‘Silence Please’ in Hindi and English, lending the work its title, and also seeming to have caused the sculpture on display to freeze mid-speech. This sign additionally points to the fact that the work portrays a public space, most likely a gallery. Dodiya recalls the frequent visits he made at the time to the Jehangir Art Gallery in Mumbai, one of the only public exhibition spaces in the city. At the Gallery, Dodiya would see people from all walks of life visiting and interacting with the art on display. Raising questions about how the layman’s experience of art is mediated, especially when they must be ‘silent’ and keep at a distance of a few plant pots from the displays, this work explores the artist’s concerns about the viewership, understanding and interpretation of art with a characteristic lightness in its approach.

While Dodiya has continued to explore these concerns over the course of his career, his work from the mid-1980s is particularly significant as it was then that he began to feel a sense of resolution on his canvases, culminating in his first solo exhibition at Gallery Chemould, Mumbai, in 1989.

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