Fresh off Satyamev Jayate, Aamir Khan and spouse Kiran Rao put some of that money to use as auction debutants with a cautious bid for six lots of Bollywood memorabilia — most famously, a jacket worn by Shammi Kapoor. The gavel went down to modest sums at Osian’s auction of cinema collectibles consisting of film stills and movie posters, but there were tunics from the Satyajit Ray film Shatranj Ke Khiladi, a turquoise ring worn by Farooque Sheikh in Umrao Jaan, heck, even a bat signed by Aamir Khan from the film Lagaan.
Individuals bidding for their objects of desire is hardly news, but institutions raising a paddle is still unexpected. The Government of India bought Hermann Kallenbach’s Gandhi letters by scuttling the lot from a forthcoming Sotheby’s auction, but Gurgaon’s Kingdom of Dreams pulled off an interesting coup when it picked up Kishore Kumar’s last recorded, but unreleased, song that it will add to its musical Jhumroo based loosely on the singer’s life and melodies.
Encouraging though that might be, it’ll be a while before we can expect corporate houses to start bidding for art or other objects at auctions — there simply isn’t that kind of inspired thinking in most organisations. Till then, one can only cheer as new collectors appear to shore up the minuscule base, even if only at the entry level — which is where the action’s been hotting up in recent months. The Osian’s auction proved that objects other than art have value; a few days earlier, a Saffronart auction with no reserve price saw artists’ editions auctioned at ridiculously low prices — bad for the consigners but great for triumphant collectors, at least a few of whom might have been new blood. That they were able to bid for works attributed to the Bodhi collection and others, consisting of photograph editions by Raghu Rai, Prabuddha Dasgupta (an unexpected washout), Ram Rahman and Prabir Purkayastha, print editions by Rekha Rodwittiya, Somnath Hore, Dharamnarayan Dasgupta and Atul Dodiya, or sculpture editions by Krishen Khanna, Jogen Chowdhury and Chintamoni Kar, most for below price estimates, is likely to draw them back to try their luck again.
At quite another level, politician Maneka Gandhi has been pushing the envelope with her increasingly frequent fundraisers for her People for Animals. In the past, she’s pulled off sales of lithographs (including a recent one in Mumbai), carpets based on artists’ works, tiles, even mugs. And now, coming up in Delhi, from August 17-19 at The Lalit, is an outing of platters by (mostly) ceramic artists. Having put the platters — or plates — on the website (peopleforanimalsindia.org/event), orders are building up from an inventory from as low as Rs 5,000 all the way to Rs 1.2 lakh for platters by Trupti Patel. Ahmedabad-based Jyoti Bhatt has contributed his effort to the exercise with platters painted by him available for Rs 30,000-40,000, while ceramicists Leena Batra and Kristine Michael are underpriced at Rs 6,000 and Rs 10,000 respectively.
Painters have occasionally attempted painting plates in the past. Those like Anjolie Ela Menon had works that even several years back were priced for a few lakhs, and recently, Jayasri Burman has created a limited-edition range which is printed rather than hand-painted, something that could catch the fancy of collectors should artists provide edition certificates to accompany these plates.
While these efforts will continue to bring in newer buyers, it is only when they move up the value chain that India can hope to have a collector base. For now, the jury is out on the number of actual or serious collectors out there — suggestions ranging from 300 at one end to a mere handful on the other. And no, Aamir Khan isn’t one of them — yet.
Kishore Singh is a Delhi-based writer and art critic. These views are personal and do not reflect those of the organisation with which he is associated