Setting the Record

He was holding the hammer when Indian art achieved its record prices. International Director of Asian Art at Christie’s,Hugo Weihe has been the face of the auction house in India for over a decade. Now,as Christie’s braces to strengthen its base in India,the New York-based auctioneer is leading from the front. He talks to Vandana Kalra about Christie’s debut auction in the country and young talent in the region

Written by Vandana Kalra | Published: August 29, 2013 5:39 am

Christie’s is holding its debut auction in India when gallerists are still complaining about a lull in the market. Is this the right time?

The market for Indian art has evolved really quickly in the last 10-15 years,and the next logical step is education. We are still finalising the works for the India auction,but it will focus on South Asian art and take place on December 19 at Taj,Mumbai. We’ll look at Moderns as well as Contemporaries,and also national treasures,in particular Amrita Sher-Gil,Tagores and Nicholas Roerich. These can’t be exported,our goal is to source entirely in India for the Indian market. We are preparing the ground with our September sale in New York,which is a single-owner sale of Supratik Bose,Nandalal Bose’s grandson.

Will the India auction be a regular feature?

It’s going to be an annual auction. People suggested that we should conduct it in Delhi,but for now it will be in Mumbai. With regard to artwork,among other things we are looking at Modernists. The next step would be to consider antiquities,miniature paintings,and bronzes.

This year,Christie’s has also became the first international auction house to acquire a license to conduct an auction in China. Are you looking at a global expansion?

This year is about Asia,India as well as China. The future lies here. We look at it as a larger South Asian entity.

When did you develop an interest in Indian art?

I studied art history in Switzerland and was particularly interested in cultural exchange. So I studied Asian art — Japanese,Chinese and Indian. I was interested in,for instance,how Buddhism originated in India and went across Asia,how ideas travelled and then how art evolved. India was the motherland for so many things. The power of the Indian culture was perhaps the strongest in Asia.

Are there any particular steps taken to initiate new collectors?It is our constant endeavour to get young collectors on board. For that the price points have to be good,we look for works on paper and photography that are only a few thousand dollars but are good.

Can you name young artists whom you think have potential?To be honest I was really impressed by the Bangaladeshi art scene,there is a lot of energy coming out. I liked Tayeba Begum Lipi and her husband Mahbubur Rahman,but there are several others.

How was it to be the auctioneer when Indian art fetched its record prices — both when Tyeb Mehta’s Mahishasura sold for US $ 1.5 million in 2005 and SH Raza’s Saurashtra for US $ 3.49 million in 2010.

That was thrilling. It’s amazing how art is always related to people and we are the facilitators. An auction starts a new chapter in the life of the work. I remember Tyeb was present when we sold Mahishasura,everyone was applauding for him. He said he hadn’t been to New York for 40 years and does not benefit from the sale as the work doesn’t belong to him anymore. I said everything he did now,he’ll benefit from and he replied,“I’m an old man and paint slowly”. Then he said,“My dream is that one day my work will be in MOMA,and now I think it will be possible.” It’s about a new level of recognition that happens.

Single Screening

Printed by Nandalal Bose after Mahatma Gandhi’s arrest for protesting the British tax on salt in 1930,the linocut of Gandhi walking with a staff was not just one of the most iconic images of India’s nationalist movement but also the work that brought the leader and the artist closer. Eight years later,Gandhi was to approach Bose once again,this time to design posters for the 1938 Indian National Congress meeting in Haripura. Years later,four of the posters — that till now were with the Bengal artist’s family — are coming under the hammer at the Christie’s New York sale on September 17. The single-owner sale featuring the collection of Bose’s US-based grandson Supratik Bose,primarily comprises his inherited collection of 81 modern Indian works of art,including Abanindranath Tagore and Rabindranath Tagore. The highlights include postcards shared between Abanindranath Tagore and Bose that speak of their friendship,and Rabindranath Tagore’s handwritten poem from Gitanjali,Where the mind is without fear.

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