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Sotheby’s bids for India
Sotheby's, one of the four oldest operational auction houses in the world, is all set to launch its first auction in India this December with a Tyeb Mehta painting. SHALINI SAKSENA tells you more
The word ‘auction’ and the first name that pops into the head is Sotheby’s. Not surprising though. It is one of the four oldest auction houses in the world in continuous operation with 90 locations in 40 countries.
Sotheby’s rich history dates back to March 11, 1744, in London when Samuel Baker presided over the disposal of several hundred scarce and valuable books from the library of Rt Hon Sir John Stanley Baron of Alderley. Since then, there has been no looking for this auction house that has its headquarters in New York City.
Given that India has become the global flavour, it was only time before Sotheby’s would find its offices in India. In September 2015, they officially opened in Mumbai. The aim — continuing its legacy of sharing the magic of art with India. Sotheby’s.
“It has been a long time plan. The time is right and the situation in the country is mature and there is a lot of scope. What has changed is the shift in the way young collectors are taking interest. We as an international auction house, be a part of and develop a number of collectors to not only transact within India but to become collectors worldwide. And let our international collectors be part of India and its art,” says Yamini Mehta who joined Sotheby’s in 2012 after a 14-year career at Christie’s where she helped establish the Indian art department in New York in 1998. She was appointed as specialist and head of South Asian Modern and Contemporary Art at Christie’s in June 2005.
The auction already has offices in Bangkok, Beijing, Jakarta, Seoul and Singapore, the focus will now be India and Indian art. “What we are building is a dual market in the Middle-east and India. Last year, we held an auction in Dubai, this year, it is going to be Mumbai. There is a billion strong population in this region that could be developed into art collectors or art lovers,” Mehta tells you.
The Mumbai office presents an expanded programme of year-round events including selling and non-selling exhibitions, worldwide highlights from upcoming auctions, private sales, events, talks, and charity sales that connect new and existing collectors in India with the global network of specialists and auctions.
The auction house will affirm its commitment to South Asia later this year (December 2018) with the launch of Boundless: Mumbai auction which will include not only important works by South Asia’s greatest artists, but also artworks by western artists inspired and influenced by the art, culture, geography and people of South Asia.
The best part is that the sale will be led by one of Tyeb Mehta’s most important works, Durga Mahisasura Mardini. This seminal painting was commissioned directly from the artist in 1993 and has remained in a private collection since, appearing on the market for the first time in December. It is among the most valuable works of modern South Asian art ever to be offered at auction.
The strength of Tyeb Mehta’s market can gauged from the fact that his current auction record stands at $3.5 million. This auction will present an opportunity for young and seasoned collectors to acquire museum-quality works from a variety of categories like modern and contemporary South Asian art.
“The theme Boundless is what we used in Hong Kong and Dubai as well. The theme is about Indian art and India subject matter which means that it will not just be beholden to Indian art. If there is work that has strong Indian influence that is also something that we will consider. Also, our auctions are addressed to the international audience. Our South Asian auctions we have collectors from India, Hong Kong, London or even the US at any given time. I don’t see that changing if the auction is physical going to take place in Mumbai,” Mehta says and tell you that they chose Mumbai since it is the financial capital of the country.
“While other cities like Delhi are just important and are strong collection base but since we opened our offices six-seven years back in Mumbai, we have an infrastructure, a strong staff, an active gallery scene that brings out the collectors. Logistically it made it easy for us to launch in Mumbai. We will have an auction in Delhi after the run-up to Mumbai,” Mehta explains.
There are certain parametres that Mehta keeps in mind while choosing an artwork. “The strictest and strongest parametre is that it has to have some inherent quality with historical importance. The binding factor for all art work is that the curator auction is something special which will include paintings, sculptures, photography. Since the theme is Boundless, we are not going to be bound what we put out as long as we feel we have put out the best of the best,” Mehta says and tells you that the auction will not have a price-capping since Sotheby’s has Indian collectors as well.
What she doesn’t foresee is any negativity that will surround the auction. “It is not as we deal in antiquities; we deal in modern art. It is a positive move when a major auction house takes an interest in a region. It not only benefits the local artist but the market and the galleries too. (Pablo) Picasso was a Spanish artist. He would not have been Picasso and would not have been widely known if his work had only be sold in Spain.
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