At AstaGuru’s online auction, there’s room for ‘funky’ art, watches and even cars

As AstaGuru readies for its online art auction, CEO Tushar Sethi breaks down the changing eco-system, and his push into watches, jewellery and cars

Tushar Sethi is sitting on the top floor of the Institute of Contemporary Indian Art (ICIA) gallery, in Mumbai’s heritage Kala Ghoda district. In the room is artist Justin Ponmany’s Night Crossroad 001, a mysterious black-and-green painting, hanging alongside Indonesian artist Entang Wiharso’s 2012 You Lost When Someone Felt Hurt, which is somewhere between sculpture and beaten metal relief. Other works from the upcoming AstaGuru digital auction — a part of ICIA’s portfolio and slated for August 22-23 — are on display too, the most arresting of which is Subba Ghosh’s Precipice, a lifelike work of a woman balancing on a tilted stool.

The new collector
  • The Indian collector is changing, though their base is mostly concentrated in cities like Mumbai and Delhi (sales are picking up in cities like Hyderabad, Lucknow, Ahmedabad and Bengaluru). While AstaGuru does have international collectors, 90% of their buyers are from India (as opposed to the 50-50 split for auction houses like Christie’s). The economic slowdown notwithstanding, Sethi says more people are opening up to digital auctions because geography isn’t a criteria. But for the older generation who aren’t comfortable with screens, the auction house does take phone bids, he adds.

The 11-year-old platform is part of just a handful of auction houses in the country. While Sotheby’s and Christie’s are the best-known international names, local names include SaffronArt and Pundole’s. Sethi, however, believes there is room for more home-grown names. “China has 300 auction houses. So when we look at India having just three, it is a really small number,” says the AstaGuru CEO.

China comes up often in our conversation, whether it’s about art prices or the auction eco-system. According to Sethi, Chinese contemporary artists already sell for $20 million, which is something India’s masters — Raza, Souza, Hussain, Gaitonde — have been unable to crack. He looks at art and cultural heritage as a form of soft power which, when wielded right, can be beneficial for the country and its art ecosystem.

At AstaGuru’s online auction, there’s room for ‘funky’ art, watches and even cars

Mainstream or not

Sethi is bullish on Asian art, citing multiple trips to “Singapore, Hong Kong and Indonesia” just this year. “We started looking at Southeast Asian art two years ago because I think there is a [growing] market in India looking at international art,” he says. While last year, works from an Indian collector went up on auction, supplemented by a few other pieces, for 2019, the auction house teamed up with consultants to bring down works of contemporary Asian artists — from a superflat work by Japan’s famous Takashi Murakami to a more reasonably-priced piece from Farhan Siki, the Indonesian artist who references Damien Hirst but adds a figurative focus.

The artists showcased this year are quite eclectic, too. I spot a stainless steel artwork by Lekha Washington alongside paintings by Anju Dodiya and Subodh Gupta. “We wanted to put up cool, funky stuff. Many are established artists who’ve been collected but are not necessarily mainstream,” he says, adding, “We were looking for artists who were represented by good galleries, and have been to international shows.” In the future, he says he sees an even divide between Indian and Asian art at the auction house’s contemporary sales.

At AstaGuru’s online auction, there’s room for ‘funky’ art, watches and even cars

Some wrist action

Like most auction houses, AstaGuru also has a range of categories, encompassing art, jewellery, watches and, in the recent past, vintage automobiles. In the next couple of years, Sethi is betting big on his expansion into watches and jewellery. “The Indian global art market is ₹1,500 crore a year, while the country imports close to ₹3,000 crore of watches every year. So the watch segment is pretty large,” he says. Next month, their first watch auction, Exceptional Timepieces, will go live (September 24-25), with lots including a 1970 Patek Philippe gold bracelet wristwatch to a brand new Girard-Perregaux cat’s eye watch. And in October (20-21), clients can look forward to their Heritage Jewellery & Silver auction. Highlights include a polki and pearl gold tediya that's over 100 years old and a silver hookah from the Lucknow royal family.

Similarly, he believes automobiles will be a good bet going forward. According to internal research, there are about 3,000 vintage cars available in the country — a great base for those looking to buy and sell.

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Printable version | Feb 25, 2020 9:36:19 AM |

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