Christie's aims to boost market, tap rich with first India sale

Christie's aims to boost market, tap rich with first India sale
Above: Artist Meera Mukherjee's "Untitled" sculpture

Mumbai - Christie's hopes to help revive the Indian art scene this week with its first auction in the country, where the market is yet to return to the heady days enjoyed before a crash five years ago.

The international auction house is bringing 83 lots spanning a century of Indian art under the hammer on Thursday, including works by modern master M.F. Husain and national treasures Rabindranath Tagore and Amrita Sher-Gil.

Held at Mumbai's grand Taj Mahal Palace hotel and expected to attract the country's growing band of super-rich, the auction is part of Christie's strategy to tap into the rising clout of Asian buyers, following its first sale in China in September.

"The market has evolved very well, the connoisseurship. People are looking very discerningly at what are the best works," said Hugo Weihe, international director of Asian Art at Christie's.

"People want the best and they're willing to pay the price."

Some have questioned the timing of the sale, given the recent sharp slowdown in India's economy and a difficult few years for the art scene since the global economic crisis sent prices tumbling in 2008.

But Christie's, which has had an office in the financial hub Mumbai for two decades, said it has seen four-fold growth in Indian buyers at its international auctions.

A sale on home turf cuts down transportation issues and import taxes, as well as putting a focus on India's rich artistic heritage.

"The sale is entirely sourced in India, for India. It's a shot in the arm to get people excited," Weihe told AFP.

While contemporary artists were badly hit by the crash, experts say works by modern masters, such as those in the Bombay Progressive Artists' Group formed in 1947, had managed to hold up well.

The 1983 painting "Saurashtra" by Syed Haider Raza sold for almost 2.4 million pounds (US$3.6 million) at Christie's in London in 2010, setting a record for a modern Indian work.

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