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  • "When you look at [Salman’s] work, there is so much life in those images, each stroke has a pulse to it." —Gregg LagambinaNew York-based Pakistani artist Salman Toor’s whimsical, autofictional narrative paintings have won this young painter international, critical and institutional acclaim, vastly exceeding predicted estimates at his recent auction debut with his work, Aashiana (Hearth and Home) (2012), which Phillips sold in London in October 2020. Group Dance is an exuberant example of Toor’s extraordinary ability to create ‘fun and merriment’ in his ‘tableaus of contemporary Bacchanalian revelry’,i while at the same time exploring sensitive personal and political topics of intimacy and togetherness, and the imagined experiences of queer Brown men in South Asia and the United States. Group Dance specifically examines tensions between economic classes and the domestic master-servant relationship against a South Asian backdrop, ‘sugarcoated’ with his signature tools of ‘humour, romance and fantasy’.i

     

    Close Quarters

    "I like the risks of painting without a plan, using intuition and memory to create imaginary worlds that explore this surreal space where deeply personal and political concerns intersect." —Salman Toor

    Group Dance is part of a group of works, collectively entitled Close Quarters, that were exhibited at the Canvas Gallery in Karachi in 2014, probing the relationship between employer and servant. Here, Toor juxtaposes the poor with the affluent. The ostensibly ‘inferior’ servant class dance joyfully in front of a mansion, which is surrounded by walls that symbolise a physical and metaphorical barrier to the untouchable wealth of the mega-rich. Despite his exploration of inequalities between economic classes, Toor adds levity through the adoption of Bollywood prototypes (this scene could be taken straight from a Bollywood cinematic dance sequence), bright colours and smiling faces that add a distinct warmth to the painting. Vivid pink, electric blue and honey yellow hues of the clothing worn by the figures leap from the painting, contrasting with the subdued brown tones of the ground and sky and drawing all attention onto the dancing group. Toor triumphantly creates a group that the viewer would be keen to join, and there is a heart-warming camaraderie in the way the troupe move together in unison.

     

    Life through an art historical lens

     

    Bhupen Khakhar, You Can’t Please All, 1981. Collection of Tate, London.
    Bhupen Khakhar, You Can’t Please All, 1981. Collection of Tate, London.

     Toor adroitly draws upon art historical references and methods of academic painting to create beautiful works that recall elements of Rococo, Baroque and Neoclassical masterpieces. He uses this as the basis of his work with which he mixes his own personal style and influences from Pakistani advertisements, evoking the way in which these images made a mundane reality aspirational. This is visible in Group Dance, in which his stylised character actors hint at a Roccoco lightness of hand with their almost feathery illustrative rendering, while also suggesting the influence of contemporary artists such as John Currin and Bhupen Khakhar. The meticulous tonality and arresting colours of Group Dance evokes the work of the Indian-born painter Khakhar, particularly his You Can’t Please All (1981), in which multiple perspectives are used as a narrative technique that Toor would later apply to his own paintings. The forms of his dancing group also summon the stylised figures of American artist Currin in their expressive modeling and palpable plasticity, as seen in Bent Lady (2003). 

     

    John Currin, Bent Lady, 2003.
    John Currin, Bent Lady, 2003, Courtesy Gagosian Gallery.

    Collector’s Digest

     

    This increasingly in-demand artist is taking the art world by storm, and his first major museum solo exhibition, How Will I Know, is currently on show at the Whitney Museum of American Art in New York (13 November 2020 – 4 April 2021), testament to his status as an exciting contemporary artist capturing the attention of the international art world. 

     

    i ‘Art Fiend: Life across the class divide’, DAWN, 23 Nov 2014 (online).

    • Provenance

      Lawrie-Shabibi Gallery, Dubai
      Private Collection
      Acquired from above by the present owner

    • Exhibited

      Karachi, Canvas Gallery, Close Quarters, 21 - 30 October 2014

1

Group Dance

2012
signed and dated 'Salman Toor '12' on the reverse
oil on linen
119 x 152 cm. (46 7/8 x 59 7/8 in.)
Executed in 2012.

Full Cataloguing

Estimate
HK$380,000 - 480,000 
€41,100-51,900
$48,700-61,500

Sold for HK$4,032,000

Contact Specialist

Charlotte Raybaud
Head of Evening Sale, 20th Century & Contemporary Art

20th Century & Contemporary Art Evening Sale in Association with Poly Auction

Hong Kong Auction 3 December 2020