Celebrating its 250th year, Christie’s India’s recent auction tallied a record $4.3 million on classical and contemporary art, bolstered with an exemplary compendium of 41 works from the private collection of Abhishek and Radhika Poddar, along with 25 registered antiquities dating back to the 11th century.
The fourth India annual sale of art auction house Christie’s may have ominously concurred with an economy besieged with cashless compromises, however, the day long auction of South Asian modern contemporary and classical art remained unperturbed in its reception.
Attractive paintings fresh from long-established collections consistently drew multiple bids. Sixty per cent of lots were sold above high estimates, producing a total of INR 72 crore worth of sale. The highlight of the event was the sale of two celebrated paintings by India’s foremost abstract painter Vasudeo Gaitonde, a leading member of India’s progressive artists’ group, well known for his retrospective exhibitionism, and another by Tyeb Mehta, also one of the progressives. The repetitive, rhythmic and subtle application of paint made Mr Gaitonde’s craft remarkable, garnering noticeable appreciation at the event.
An important attraction of the sale was the 41 art pieces that came from the personal collection amassed by Abhishek and Radhika Poddar. Patrons with a vision that precedes the Indian market, the Poddars have built an enviable collection of modern and contemporary Indian art. Aesthetics with a taste for the finest, across genres and categories, their collection reflects their innate respect for the arts and a drive to share India’s diverse cultural landscape with the world.
Another highpoint of the evening was the exquisite array of 40 miniatures from scholar and aficionada Colonel R.K. Tandan’s private collection. Tandan spent a lifetime acquiring distinctive works of Indian miniature paintings, his interest was academic as well as aesthetic, and hence he sought works from the scholars of his time, a flagrant example of which is the renowned Ragmala series. The crown jewel of Mr Tandan’s collection were four eye-catching and detailed Basholi folios titled ‘Tandan Ragamala’, including ‘Ragaputra Chandrakaya of Malkosa’, ‘Punyaki Ragini of Bhairav’, ‘Shri Raga’ and ‘Bhairava Raga’. Intricate court paintings from Mewar, Kangra, Bikaner, Nathdwara and the Deccan were also included in this curated sale.
The series is the visual depiction of the classical Indian musical form of the raga, with each raga belonging to a family. It portrays abstract exhibitionism and an impression of silence that remains unmatched, circa 1700.
Another stalwart, Manjeet Bawa’s work projected a serene quality, rarity and provenance. His signature mark was the portrayal of simplicity and spirituality in brightly-coloured allegorical paintings
Commenting on Christie’s eminent focus on Indian artists and it’s status as an emerging market for contemporary art, Sonal Singh, Head of Department for South Asian Modern and Contemporary Art said, “The recent retrospective of Gaitonde’s oeuvre at the Guggenheim Museum in New York, followed by the show at the Peggy Guggenheim museum in Venice, has certainly helped to expose the artist to an even wider circle of admirers. Shows for other Indian artists, such as Bhupen Khakhar at the Tate Modern in London, have helped to spotlight the greatness and diversity of contemporary art making in India, and it receives very positive international reviews.”
At the auction, the highest price commanded by a single work was INR 15.63 crore, fetched by an untitled VS Gaitonde work from 1974. The second-highest bid was also for a Gaitonde, dated 1973, which went for INR 11.43 crore. The third-highest bid was for the cover lot by Tyeb Mehta, an untitled oil on canvas from 1975 that sold for INR 10.23 crore.
Ms Singh further mentioned that, “Christie’s has been holding sales in the category of South Asian Modern + Contemporary Art for the past 20 years and since then, works by Gaitonde, Mehta and other Indian masters were very much sought-after by a large collector’s community. This market has been built constantly to guarantee its sustainability and longevity.”
Christie’s India auction held back in 2015 had seen the highest tally for any auction in India with a record total sale of INR 97 crore vis a vis total sale of INR 75 crore in 2014. The auction figures of the past three years are reflective of the international popularity of big-name art as a status symbol, and the increased seriousness with which the world’s high-net-wort individual’s view art as an alternative investment. It is a signal of revelation that contemporary and classical art is on its way to substituting gold, as a store of wealth.