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‘Dedicated To Building Our Business In India’

Sotheby’s auction sales of modern and contemporary Indian art saw an increase of 27 per cent in 2015, followed by strong results in 2016

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The Sotheby’s Institute of Art, set up in 1969, is a leader in art business education and object-based learning. Its faculty represents the best of the art world helping students master the unique forces at play at the intersection of art and commerce. It recently conducted in Mumbai a three-day course, especially designed for art enthusiasts and collectors. Edward Gibbs, chairman & head of department, Middle East & India, Sotheby’s, was in India recently to discuss the importance of modern and contemporary Indian art, challenges in tackling the fake art market, antiquity laws, etc.

Excerpts:

As the art market in India is growing, the fake art market is also a challenge to tackle. What are the checks and balances in place at Sotheby’s to ensure no fakes make it to auctions?
At Sotheby’s, our worldwide specialist staff have a wealth of expertise in evaluating works, and every item accepted for sale has been rigorously researched. Research includes physical examination of the work in question, appropriate testing, checking relevant literature, exhibition history and consultation with external specialists in the field.

Souza and Gaitonde works, which will be displayed at your forthcoming auction, are garnering a lot of attention. What according to you makes these master artists of modern India so special?
As leading figures of the 20th century avant-garde, both Souza and Gaitonde transformed the face of Indian art. These artists, alongside other Indian modernist masters, are now rightly receiving critical reappraisal in major institutions across the globe. The Guggenheim Museum recently staged a landmark exhibition of Gaitonde’s work in both New York and Venice, and we’re incredibly excited to offer an important work by the artist in our upcoming sale from the 1970s. Souza was the intellectual founder of the Progressive Movement and has been already shown and collected by the Tate in London in 2005.

Some of the modern masters, including Raja Ravi Verma, Rabindranath Tagore, aren’t allowed to move out of India or go on sale as per the antiquity law since they are over 100 years old. In a few years, members of major collectives like Progressives, Group 1890, etc., will have paintings that will hit the 100-year-old mark.

Should there be a change in the law given that the art market gets severely restricted if these works aren’t allowed outside?
It is something that unless the law changes, collectors will have to consider it for the next 30 years. Right now with the free movement of works, it is actually helping the awareness and the market for these works when collecting is broad and international. We find that clientele from the South Asian diaspora is also very active in collecting and preserving these works. The risk develops that there will be a drain of great artworks if restrictions are placed on them.

Why have you decided to open a Sotheby’s Institute of Art in Mumbai?
The opening of our Mumbai office has enabled us to further support a full calendar of events in the city, which included launching a three-day course in conjunction with the Sotheby’s Institute for the first time. These activities mean we can contribute to an already vibrant art ecosystem by bringing an international outlook to the currently thriving art scene.

How important a market is India for you?
Sotheby’s was the first international auction house to hold an auction in India, when in October 1992 we staged a sale of Indian, European and Oriental Paintings and Works of Art in New Delhi. India remains tremendously important to Sotheby’s business and we have a worldwide team dedicated to continue to build our business in India and across the region.

Do you think the number of Indians buying art as an investment has gone up?
We have seen an upward trajectory in the number of Indian bidders participating in our global sales in recent years. The value spent by Indian clients at our auctions has more than doubled in the last four years, with a growth of 10 per cent in the last year alone.

What tips would you give first-time art collectors?
My advice to first-time collectors would be to visit as many exhibitions as you can, learn about the artists, and discover works of art that you love and want to live with.

The market for Indian Modern art, characterised by the work of the Progressive Group, has been subject to market volatility since the early 1990s. Contemporary Indian art, created for the international market has proved to be even more unstable in the market-place. Where do you see the future performance of both these sectors?
We see a great future for modern and contemporary Indian art. Sotheby’s auction sales of modern and contemporary Indian art saw an increase of 27 per cent in 2015, and we’ve followed that up with some strong results in 2016. Our New York sale in March was led by a monumental work by Vasudeo S. Gaitonde, which sold for $2.7m, the third highest price achieved for this artist at auction, and we look forward to seeing equally strong results at our autumn sales in London.

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