Sotheby’s recently installed MD for Europe, Middle East, Russia and India, Jan Prasens, is making his first big move by building on some of his team’s recent successes. Last month, Sotheby’s South Asian sale of reached $15.5m, the highest total in the last three years, with a strong 84% sell-through rate. New clients seem to be streaming into Sotheby’s sales rooms in New York and London.
Now Sotheby’s is going to the source. Two years ago, Sotheby’s opened an office in Mumbai. Today, Sotheby’s and Prasens have announced plans for holding sales in Mumbai beginning in December of this year.
Although South Asian art is sold in New York and London, India has export laws that would favor holding sales domestically if there is a critical mass of buyers there. Previously, the buyer base and currency bias has favored sales abroad. But Sotheby’s has been making some noise in the press recently about the spending power emerging domestically.
“In the past five years, the number of Indians across all Sotheby’s global sales has almost doubled” Gaurav Bhatia, Managing Director, Sotheby’s India said in the release repeating comments made to the Indian press in recent months. “Indian clients have bought over $250 million of art over this period. In our most recent sales of Asian art in New York in March,” Bhatia said, “40% of buyers were new to Sotheby’s.”
“We have seen exponential growth in activity by Indian collectors at Sotheby’s,” Edward Gibbs, Sotheby’s Chairman of India and the Middle East, said in the same release, “not only in our sales of South Asian art, but also in our wider international auctions. This strong uptick is part of a global pattern of increased liquidity within the market.”
The first sale in December is entitled ‘Boundless: Mumbai’ —echoing other sales in the Gulf states region. It will include a mix of works by South Asian artists along with artworks by western artists inspired by South Asia sourced from collections across the sub-Continent and globally, the release says.
One of Tyeb Mehta’s most important works, Durga Mahisasura Mardini has been confirmed to lead the December sale. This seminal painting was commissioned directly from the artist in 1993 and has remained in a private collection since, appearing on the market for the first time later this year. It is among the most valuable works of modern South Asian art ever to be offered at auction. Two out of the three highest prices for the artist have been set at auction within the last year, attesting to the strength of Tyeb Mehta’s market. His current auction record stands at US$3.6 million.
Yamini Mehta, International Head of Indian & South Asian Art at Sotheby’s said: “One of the most important artists in the country and a leading figure in the history of Indian modernism, Tyeb Mehta’s ‘Durga Mahisasura Mardini’ is possibly the most important work in the artist’s oeuvre. A symbol of victory of good over evil, this painting celebrates the spirit of India. It is one of most provocative portrayals of goddess Durga defeating the mythical buffalo demon, Mahisasura. The painting celebrates hope and renewal instilled in Indian mythology and reconnects with Indian values. The oblique allusion to the colours of the Indian flag makes it a brilliant and powerful ode to the spirit of the country. This painting is a prelude to the artist’s iconic ‘Celebrations’ and ‘Mahisasura’ series, making it amongst the artist’s most significant and rarest works.”