The Christie’s Modern Art auction last December surpassed expectations, grossing more than Rs 90 crore. The day-long event was a boost to the country’s art market, with people loosening their purse strings to invest in art at a time when the nation is grappling with the slowdown.
Encouraged by the event, the city’s oldest art house, Pundole Art Gallery, launched their newest independent auction space, Pundole’s on March 6.
“Because of the growing market and the need to cater to our customers, having our own auction space makes sense. We can now do a lot more with the space, such as hold smaller auctions, have educational tours and engage the art community,” says director Dadiba Pundole, adding that their old space near Flora Fountain will be used for the back end work of the gallery.
The 4,000 sq ft venue is located in Tanna House at Colaba and is already being used for viewings for the first Pundole auction of this year on March 12. The auction will take place at at the National Centre for the Performing Arts (NPCA) because it can hold a larger gathering of bidders than the new space. “Physical auctions have always been our forte, so we are delighted to be opening Pundole’s, a much-needed space for the city’s art scene,” says auctioneer Mallika Advani. “In terms of the diverse variety of art on sale — jewellery, books, fine art, sculptures and furniture — this will probably be the largest (and the only) auction house in the city in this category,” she adds.
Ninety-one lots of art will go under the hammer, and these have been divided into two sections — Antiquity, which has 44 lots consisting of Modern and classical sculptures, and Modern Fine Art, which has Modern Masters such as M F Husain, F N Souza, S H Raza, K H Ara, Tyeb Mehta and Vasudev Gaitonde among others. “The most interesting part about our collection is that all the original members of the Progressive Artists’ Group — Souza, Husain, Ara, HA Gade, SK Bakre and Raza — have been represented,” says Advani.
Among the highlights of the auction are the second century Buddha stone sculptures (estimated at Rs 3 lakh), rare thangka art from Tibet (estimated at Rs 10-15 lakh), Indian miniatures depicting the Mughal courts of India (estimated at Rs 5 lakh), Souza’s Crowned Christ (estimated at 1.2 crore) and Shipping on the Hoogly River, Calcutta, by the European artist Jules Schaumburg (estimated at Rs 50 lakh). However, the lot for the highest-estimated bid is an untitled piece by Husain at Rs 1.8 crore.
Pundole Art Gallery was one of the earliest art galleries in the city (established in 1963) and one of the few to hold traditional art auctions. The Pundoles started holding large-scale physical auctions in 2011. Their inaugural auction offered a collection of paintings from the estate of the late Jamshed Bhabha . In three years, they have hosted seven large-scale auctions of fine and decorative art. Other online art houses such as Saffronart and Astaguru hold regular auctions and have also started hosting physical auctions as well.
Pundole also agrees that, although auction houses such as Christie’s are making their presence felt, there is a long way to go for more auction spaces because of financial liabilities.
“Christie’s might do one auction a year, so is buying such a large space worth it? It’s a question I ask myself too. We do two or three auctions in a year. So, it remains to be seen whether we can pull off more auctions and use the space to our advantage,” he says.