Meenakshi Kumari-Shah, Country head, Christie’s India, on why the auction house has decided to hold an auction in India

Its better late than never for Christie’s, as one of the two major international auction houses, decides to hold its maiden sales in India, almost 20 years after Christie’s entered the Indian art market. The development following the recent announcement from the 247-year-old auction house regarding its sale in Shanghai in September 2013 — making it the first international auction house to operate independently in mainland China — highlights Christie’s keen interest in India as well. Indian art market might be a smaller force, in terms of numbers, as compared to Chinese art market which considered one of the leading art markets of the world but as one of the emerging markets, it is hard to ignore. Christie’s inaugural auction will take place in Mumbai, where it has had its office since 1994, and will offer just Indian art.

Menaka Kumari-Shah, Country Head for Christie’s India, explains what the move signifies for Indian art. Edited excerpts from an email interview:

On Christie’s increasing presence in India

Christie’s has a long history in India beginning in 1760s when Indian art was first included in our auctions and sales of Indian art have continued ever since. Our office in Mumbai opened in 1994 and we have held regular international sales of Modern and Contemporary South Asian art since 1995. More recently, we have supported the India Art Fair in Delhi (earlier this year) and partnered with The British Council for ‘Homelands’, a touring exhibition of contemporary art, to New Delhi, Mumbai, Kolkata and Bengaluru. The decision to hold auctions at this time is a reflection of the strong momentum in the domestic art marketplace, the increased international appeal of Indian art and the growing participation of Indian collectors across international sale categories.

On Indian art market

We believe India is a dynamic growth market with great potential, and wish to connect it with Christie’s activities around the world. We believe that India, Indian collectors and Indian art will increasingly become a significant contribution to the future growth of Christie’s internationally. Over the past 10 years, Christie’s Indian client base has increased four-fold. Indian clients have shown interest in a diverse range of collecting categories. This is in addition to continue to buy Indian art, a trend we have seen repeated in other growth markets.

On its significance for Indian art

It has long been our wish to hold sales in India but we have taken the time to ensure we fully understand what buyers within India are looking for and have all of the necessary licenses to operate.

As in other growth markets where we hold sales, such as our successful operation in Dubai, a responsible international auctioneer who sees their role for the long term, has an important part to play in attracting the attention of an global group of passionate and committed collectors. Our auctions can also lend this same support to young artists by providing them with an international platform for their work to be shown. It is this wide reach, combined with nearly 20 year experience operating in India that has helped to inform our latest commitment to India.

On its distinctive Indian character

Christie’s sales in India will allow our Indian-based clients more direct access to our global network and expertise. Indian collectors, especially those new to the art market, will have the opportunity to participate in our auctions, without having to travel overseas. Our presence in India will also increase public awareness towards art and collecting and enhance the circulation of Indian artworks within the country which will be beneficial not only to our sales in London and New York, but also to the art industry globally.

OTHER AUCTION HOUSES ACTIVE IN INDIA

Besides Christie’s, other market leader Sotheby’s has also been active in India for many years now.

Bonham’s, is yet another international auction house, which announced the appointment of Gayatri Juneja, as its India representative, indicating the London auctioneer’s renewed interest in India.

Among the Indian players there is Osian’s, Saffronart, an online auctioneer which conducts numerous sales through the year, and Siddhartha Tagore’s Art Bull.

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