Christie's celebrates modernists at 2nd India auction

Christie's celebrates modernists at 2nd India auction
An employee adjusts an artwork inside a gallery in Mumbai, during the media preview before Christie's second auction in India.

MUMBAI - Christie's hopes to consolidate its foothold in the Indian art market Thursday with only its second sale in the country, showcasing a range of work by homegrown modern artists.

The London-based auction house is offering 80 lots at Mumbai's luxury Taj Mahal Palace hotel, all by Indian artists, following its first sale at the same venue last year that raised $16.3 million.

Works by modernists M.F. Husain, Tyeb Mehta and Vasudeo S. Gaitonde are among those going under the hammer later Thursday, with the oldest piece being a pocket notebook of author Rabindranath Tagore, dated 1889 to 1904.

"The reason we have come here is we have seen very active bidding out of India," said Amin Jaffer, international director of Asian art. "We've seen an expansion in the range of interest." India's art market lags behind that of China, where the first Christie's auction last year raised US$25 million (S$32.8 million), and which was pouring money into new museums to improve its already developed art scene.

Christie's said education and exposure were a key aim of its sales in India, where the art scene has also suffered from cumbersome regulations and import duties.

"Many of the pieces are of museum quality," Jaffer told reporters at a viewing this week. "It's a rare opportunity." At last year's India auction, which more than doubled estimates, 35 per cent of buyers were new registrants to Christie's and the auction house hopes to expand on that this year.

Contemporary Indian art suffered badly after the 2008 global economic crisis, but Christie's specialist Deepanjana Klein said the market for modernist works was "extremely robust".

She said they were not just trying to sell Indian art to Indians but promote it to "an international group of collectors".

The record for a modern Indian artwork was set by Syed Haider Raza's 1983 painting "Saurashtra", which sold for almost 2.4 million pounds (S$4.9 million) at Christie's in London in 2010.

The top lot at Thursday's sale is Mehta's 1999 work "Falling Bull", with a pre-sale estimate of US$1.4 to US$2.0 million.

Several other works on offer are deemed "national art treasures", such as the Tagore notebook, meaning they are non-exportable.

Alongside the modern art on offer, the proceeds from 10 contemporary lots will benefit the Delhi-based art residency, Khoj International Artists' Association.

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