Mumbai-based Sonal Singh, specialist and head of Indian Art sales, Christie’s, talks about the impact that the auction house’s maiden sale in India had on the art market, the international standing of Indian art and the growth cycles of the various art segments. What next after Christie’s maiden auction in India, held last year? We were overwhelmed by the response. We are now planning for the next auction that is likely to be held in the first half of December. The date and venue will be announced soon. The team has already started sourcing for the sale. While last year, most of the lots were from the estate of Kekoo and Khorshed Gandhy with 30 lots from other private collectors, this year 80 to 100 lots will feature both modern and contemporary works. We are in a privileged position to sell non-exportable national treasures within India. Last year we featured six of the national treasures. Amrita Sher-Gil and the three Tagores -- Rabindranath, Abanindranath and Gaganendranath -- are on our wish list. The idea is to showcase the growth of Indian modern and contemporary art across the country -- be it the Bengal school, the Progressives in Mumbai, the Baroda school of art and the Chennai style. The auction should be representative of all regions and schools of art prevalent in India. What were the learnings from the last auction? Our office had only three people last year. That number has now grown to six. It was an adventure of sorts. We grew and expanded. It is fortunate that we can look back and say that the results were more than we had expected. We have realised that provenance is so important. Collectors love an artwork that has some history attached to it.
Where it was collected, where was it made, etc -- all this is very significant. The auction brought VS Gaitonde into the spotlight in the international art market. What is the international standing of Indian art? VS Gaitonde is one of our most important art abstractionists along with Nasreen Mohamedi. It’s not easy to get a Gaitonde piece, he made only six to eight a year. Last year, we had one very early painting and another one from the 1970s. So these two represented two very different aspects of his career. We promised to loan the works to Guggenheim for the Gaitonde retrospective, no matter who bought it. We work with museums for things like that, it is about building the art market. We also supported shows of MF Husain in London this year. As far as the international art world is concerned, India is already on the map. There is a Nasreen Mohamedi exhibition at Tate Liverpool till October 5, 2014. Then there is a jewellery auction, ‘India: Jewels that Enchanted the World’, on at the State Museums of Moscow, Kremlin, Russia. For an international art auction house like Christie’s to have an auction in India too shows its dedication to Indian art, and we will have an auction here every year. How have the various art segments grown vis-a-vis one another? There is always a market for a high quality artwork, irrespective of whether it is modern, contemporary or antique. Markets have their own cycles. Currently, modern is very strong as is contemporary in its own space. Of course, there is a certain correction in the market for the latter. Of late, there has been news of fake artworks entering the market. How to assess and avoid buying a fake? At Christie’s, we take issues of authenticity very seriously. Provenance is a very important aspect. We try and see where these artworks were brought, what the accompanying literature is, where it was collected, etc.