It is the season of auctions in the Indian art world, in both Delhi and Mumbai, with a new announcement coming in every other week. At the Sea Lounge, Taj Mahal Palace Hotel, Mumbai, Ishrat Kanga chats about who the new Indian art collector is and what are they buying. Deputy Director and Specialist, Head of Sale at Sotheby’s, Kanga, till recently, was also the only Indian and female auctioneer at an international auction house. Excerpts from the conversation:
What drew you to this line of work?
When I was studying psychology as my major in McGill University in Canada, I took Modern Art as a summer course. I enjoyed it so much that I took Art History as my minor, only to double major in Psychology and Art History. In 2008-09, I did my Master’s degree, which was a really practical degree: less academic, more field trips. I joined Sotheby’s in 2010.
What’s it like to sell art? One is navigating a complicated relationship between beauty and commerce.
It’s exciting. What I love about this job is that you have to care about the work. When it comes to evaluating an artwork for a sale, a list containing information about the piece, including provenance and medium, is shared with a number of art specialists all over the world. All of them get on a call with us, and then we go out to bat for the art. I know that art is seen as something that is elite, but it really is not. More museums around the world are making art accessible to visitors. A lot of people say that they don’t understand art; to them I say that if it evokes any feeling in you, then the artwork has done its job.
Who’s buying art in India today?
The only figures I can share are not specific to Indians but for all buyers/bidders in Sotheby’s sales on modern and contemporary South Asian art. Last year, 41 per cent of buyers were under 40, while 36 per cent of bidders were under 30.
In India, the most avid collectors are the ones who are putting together their own collections for their homes. There are young collectors who only collect paper works. They can get a VS Gaitonde on paper at a tenth of the price of canvas. But there are also artists like Nasreen Mohamedi, whose paper works reach the same prices as much as her canvases, if not more.
Is there an Indian artist or artists whose works you’d like to champion?
There are a few — SK Bhakre, NS Bendre, HA Gade. I’d like to push their work out there.