Christie’s India auction to rekindle nation’s art scene?

Christie’s India auction to rekindle nation’s art scene?
December 19 is the date when international auctioneers Christie’s are scheduled to hold their very first art auction in India. On the cards are the addition of some very important works to the upcoming auction, by artists categorised as ‘National Art Treasures’ to the private collection of Kekoo and Khorshed Ghandy, the owners of the prestigious Chemold Gallery. Slated to take place in Mumbai, the lead-up to the preparations for this event is being watched with bated breath by artists, galleries and art lovers in India.

The questions on everybody’s minds are, “Will this auction herald an improvement in the sale of Indian art and improved prices? Will it open up the market for international buyers and can we expect this auction to lead to a season of improved prices”? These questions are being asked for a very good reason, since over the years, it has been established that Indian art fares far better abroad than in India. So much so that a leading art gallery owner ruefully stated, that art sales in India have reached rock-bottom stages and many are resorting to auctioning the works of important artists abroad, to keep their businesses going.

Deemed to be of “such national importance to ‘Indian Culture’ that they are non-exportable and when sold, must remain in India”, are works by six of the nine modern Indian artists whose works are defined as ‘National Art Treasures’ — Rabindranath, Abanindranath and Gaganendranath Tagore, Nandalal Bose, Jamini Roy and Amrita Sher-Gil — whose works will be “included in the 83 lots in Christie’s first auction in India”. The works have already been on exhibition at The Taj Mahal Hotel in New Delhi and will be on display at The Taj Mahal Palace in Mumbai from December 17.

It is interesting to note that Christie’s interest in Indian art dates back to when founder James Christie “offered ‘four fine India pictures painted on glass’ in his inaugural sale on December, 5, 1766”. However, it was only in 1994 that the auction house opened an office in India. Christie’s are on record as having said that “Collectors from India make an increasingly important contribution to the global art market across international categories”. If that is indeed so, then why are art prices in India down to such low levels? Will Christie’s entry be the magic key to higher prices? Only time will tell.

Earlier this year, Christie’s had “lent its support and international reach to the India Art Fair”, which is now all set for its 6th showing from January 30 to February 2, 2014. The upcoming event will offer 91 booths from India and abroad, living up to its reputation as “one of South Asia’s leading Art Fairs”. We can expect to see work by local and international artists and witness the participation of renowned art personalities at the Speakers Forum. In fact, the capital will be buzzing with city-wide events such as “Listen Up! — the first public sound art project to be launched in India; a city-wide installation to make sound art publically accessible through cellular phones”. As more news comes in, we will take you through all the exciting possibilities created by the India Art Fair 2014, so that you can make the most of the ‘highlight of India’s busy cultural season’.

(The writer is an author and a former art gallery owner)

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