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Purveyors of art for 274 years, and the world’s first international auction house, Sotheby’s is ready to host its first India auction. Having set up the Mumbai office in 2016, they’re launching sales in the country with ‘Boundless: India’ on November 29. With a focus on Indian and South Asian art, the auction will also feature works from western artists, inspired by art, culture, geography and people of South Asia. With Tyeb Mehta’s ‘Durga Mahisasura Mardini’ leading the sale; here is all you need to know about the auction, as told by Yamini Mehta, International Head of Indian and South Asian Art.

Yamini Mehta, International Head of Indian and South Asian Art
The Little Girl in Blue (1934) by Amrita Sher-Gil
Two years after setting up Mumbai office, what finally ushered in the launch of sales in the country?

The Indian Art story has never been more vibrant. Public and private initiatives are serving as new building blocks for the Indian contemporary art scene. The biennales, art fairs and private museums are shaping the art-lovers’ minds, allowing them to have opinions and preferences. Indian artists are being discussed and celebrated globally. Contemporary Art in India knows no limits in form and creativity.
In the past five years, the number of Indians participating across all Sotheby’s global sales has almost doubled. They have bought over USD 250 million of art over this period. Indian residents bidding online has also increased nine-fold, thereby increasing the value spent by 59 percent.
In light of the these, it was natural for us to reiterate our commitment to South Asia by establishing Mumbai as a new selling location.

What has prompted the growing presence of Indians on the art landscape?
Cul-de-sac in Taxila (2014) by Ranbir Kaleka
Cul-de-sac in Taxila (2014) by Ranbir Kaleka

With a stronger base and focus on cultural value, rather than purely fiscal value, Indian art is seeing a sustainable resurgence. New exciting public and private initiatives are serving as building blocks for the Indian contemporary art scene. With private wealth continually increasing, newer collectors are coming into the market. There’s a realistic optimism and excitement in the market.

What went behind selecting 'Boundless: India' as the theme for this auction?

With this carefully curated sale we would like to showcase the breadth and sophistication of visual art and culture in South Asia with museum quality works. However, we also hope to surprise collectors a little, challenge them to look beyond their horizons with respect to collecting by introducing a wider array of artists, different media, and by showing an appreciation for high design. By definition, the limits of the sale are ‘Boundless’. The sale will feature art made in, and also inspired by, the subcontinent; including painting, photography, sculpture and design, amongst others. It will bring the best of Indian art to the world.

How does this auction seek to impact the art scene in the country?

Egg Bird (1975) by Das Gupta
A 1974 Satish Gujral, Untitled (Ganesha)

We are hoping to broaden the market. We will offer works starting anywhere from INR 60,000 to INR 20 crore, so there will be something for everybody. We want to engage with newer, younger collectors who perhaps haven’t thought about starting a collection before, as well as providing an array of art that will appeal to established clients.
We are looking to showcase what is exciting and special about Indian art. Sotheby’s has been foremost about access and education. All our pre-auction exhibitions across the world are free to visit for everyone. The auction in India will be no exception. These presale exhibitions in Delhi and Mumbai were once-in-a-lifetime opportunities to see museum-quality art works, many of which have never been seen in public before.

How does the way forward look like for art in India?

The Definitive Reincarnate (2003-06) by Nandini Valli Muthiah
Dust Storm, Rajasthan, India, 1983 (2017) by Steve McCurry

The positive trajectory of the Indian economy has enabled more and more people to think about starting a collection and buying their own tiny piece of Indian art history. We’re certainly seeing new buyers entering our sales all the time. There’s a whole new demographic of people living in India who now want to engage with us.
I hope you’ll agree that auction houses have had a role to play in shining a light on Indian art with our sales, public exhibitions and lectures. However, I think we have a lot to thank the gallerists, entrepreneurs and curators for — who have been establishing new art fairs and pioneering exhibitions in India. They’ve widened the conversation around art and have attracted international attention in the process. This kind of investment has enriched and revitalised the Indian art scene.
On an international level, Indian art is undergoing somewhat of a reappraisal too. Thanks to several excellent museum shows, more Indian artists than ever before are becoming household names in the US and Europe. Indian galleries have been expanding their presence at major art fairs like Art Basel and Frieze. There are exciting times ahead.
All images: Courtesy brand

Megha Uppal
Associate Editor
An innate love for travel and food has translated into many a trips since childhood for Megha; it also fed her curiosity to know about local cultures. When not writing, she is on the lookout for three things: A great dark chocolate dessert, a beautiful pool where she can practice her backstroke, and art that she can save up for.