India’s rise brings art auctions

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India’s rise brings art auctions

Christie’s International will hold its inaugural auction in India with the offering of $8 million of modern and contemporary South Asian art in Mumbai.

The sale of 83 works set for tomorrow will be led by modern master Tyeb Mehta’s (1925-2009) work “Mahishasura,” which is estimated to sell for 75 million rupees ($1.2 million) to 95 million rupees. Works by Syed Haider Raza, who holds the record for the most expensive Indian artist, are also included.

Increasing affluence in India and China, where Christie’s and Sotheby’s both held their first auctions this year, is creating a growing base of collectors that international houses are keen to tap. While the expected auction results are small compared with sales in Hong Kong, London or New York, the India debut allows for networking and marketing, according to Steven Murphy, Christie’s chief executive officer.

“The objective for Christie’s is to be on the ground,” Murphy said. “The sold total for this week’s sale is not the most important thing by any means.”

The sale is seen as an important bellwether of the health of the local art market, which went into steep decline after the Lehman Brothers collapse in 2008, said Girish Shahane, a Mumbai-based curator and art critic.

“Everybody who bought got their fingers burned, and a couple of art investment funds had trouble paying back investors,” he said. “A lot is riding on this sale. It’s really a marker of whether the market can move forward.”

Christie’s and Sotheby’s hold South Asian art auctions in New York and London, and Indians living abroad are an important segment of business at auctions in New York, London and Dubai. The Mumbai sale is Christie’s initial foray onto Indian soil, and the first auction by an international auction house since Sotheby’s held a sale in New Delhi in 1992.

The number of high-net-worth individuals in India, those with at least $1 million in investable assets, grew by 22 percent in 2012 to 153,000, according to the Asia-Pacific Wealth Report by Capgemini and RBC Wealth Management, more than Hong Kong or Singapore.

“China has already developed a very strong indigenous market for its own art,” said Hugo Weihe, Christie’s international director of Asian art. “India is a few years behind, but we see similar, enormous possibilities. There is obviously great wealth and great art.”

Highlights of the sale include Vasudeo S. Gaitonde’s untitled 1979 oil-on-canvas abstract work with a high estimate of 85 million rupees. In June, another of his works sold for 698,500 pounds ($1.1 million) at Sotheby’s in London.

Bolstering the sale are works by Nobel Literature Prize laureate Rabindranath Tagore and Amrita Sher-Gil that are deemed by the Indian authorities as “National Art Treasures” and non-exportable. Both are expected to command several hundred thousand dollars. Bloomberg
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