The scene could make for the nail-biting finale of a film—best imagined in slow motion. In the early 1980s, the Indian contemporary artist G. Ravinder Reddy made one of his earliest nude women sculptures, while on a scholarship at Goldsmiths’ College, London. His shoestring budget meant he couldn’t ship it to India, so he left it with his professor, recounts Reddy on the phone from Hyderabad. The professor, for reasons not known, passed it on to someone else. When the other custodian showed up to collect it from the college gymnasium, where it was kept, he was horrified to see people standing with sledgehammers, ready to dismantle the work. Its base had already been pulled apart but the sculpture was claimed by the collector at the last moment, freezing the falling hammers mid-air. “It really was with only seconds to go that I managed to save the Goddess," writes the anonymous collector in a statement from Christie’s.

Now, the never before seen Reddy sculpture is on the market. Untitled (Goddess) is one of the 70 lots in the South Asian Modern + Contemporary Art sale, to be held at Christie’s, London, on 12 June (estimate £25,000-35,000, or around Rs17-23.7 lakh). The modern and contemporary sale in the afternoon will be complemented by the morning auction Arts Of India, featuring 157 classical works like Gandharan Buddhist sculptures, a rare Ramayan manuscript, and Mughal paintings. The works in the two auctions cover a period from the second century right up to the late 20th century.

Reddy remembers making the sculpture in 1983. “It had a beautiful base," he says. It was, he recalls, like a bed with a patterned bedsheet on it, on which the figure rested. It’s one of the earliest examples of his now instantly recognizable nudes that combine the grace of ancient Hindu sculptures with the irreverence of pop art and kitsch, through bold colours or accentuated body parts—lips, hips, nose or eyes. “It’s really a prototype for the sculptures he would go on to make," says Damian Vesey, Christie’s head of sale for modern and contemporary South Asian art, on phone.

Another attraction here is an expressionist acrylic by Tyeb Mehta, Falling Figure (1992), a fractured depiction of a figure falling head first, measuring 10x10ft. It reappears on the market a mere six years after its first sale, with more than double the estimate. Last sold at a 2012 Christie’s auction in New York for $722,500, it now carries an estimate of $1.6-2.4 million. A recurring subject for Mehta, the falling figure was his response to the human suffering he witnessed during the Partition. The sale should be noteworthy, if only to observe how a prominent work fares—in an industry notorious for its opaque pricing mechanisms—not long after it was last seen on the market.

The auctions Art Of India and South Asian Modern + Contemporary Art will be held in the Christie’s saleroom, London, on 12 June and will be open to online bidding. Visit Christies.com/calendar.

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