Christie's to hold its first art auction in India

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 17 December, 2013, 3:55am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 17 December, 2013, 3:55am

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

Thursday's sale of 83 paintings will be led by modern master Tyeb Mehta's (1925-2009) work Mahishasura, which is estimated to sell for 75 million rupees (HK$9.37 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 inaugural auctions this year, is creating a growing base of collectors that international auction houses are keen to tap.

"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."

The number of wealthy Indians with at least US$1 million in investable assets grew 22 per cent last year to 153,000, according to the Asia-Pacific Wealth Report by Capgemini and RBC Wealth Management, a higher number than in either Hong Kong or Singapore.

While Christie's and Sotheby's hold South Asian art auctions in New York and London, the Mumbai sale is Christie's initial foray on Indian soil, and the first auction by an international auction house since Sotheby's held a sale in New Delhi in 1992.

Other highlights of the sale include Vasudeo 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 (HK$8.83 million) at Sotheby's in London.

Weihe describes Gaitonde as the "Rothko of India" whose works combine elements of Zen Buddhism, calligraphy and Rorschach tests.

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 US dollars.

The decision to stage auctions within India also reflects the failure of South Asian works to attract much buying interest in the modern and contemporary Asian sales staged twice a year in Hong Kong.