By Siddhi Jain
New Delhi, July 21 (IANS) For Christies India Managing Director and art specialist Sonal Singh, collecting artefacts began at the age of four with a coin album and a stamp book. Steering the business operations of a leading global auction house now, and handling Indias modern and contemporary art firsthand, she observes how the Indian art market is gaining ground and what our culture budget should not overlook.
“Collecting has been a long-established legacy in India, instilled by the royal houses who were patrons of fine works of many categories, spanning from paintings to jewellery, crystal, porcelain and vintage cars,” Singh told IANS in an e-mail interview, adding that India’s rich past needs to be conserved.
Along with fellowships for young artists and making art accessible, Singh suggests implementing the International Council of Museum (ICOM) standards to continue to upgrade and preserve the country’s heritage museums.
She urges for a culture budget to support display of Indian art forms at the world’s greatest museums like the British Museum, The Met, V&A and the Louvre, and matching it up with shows of global art at Indian museums.
Christie’s, which dates back about 250 years, sold “four fine India pictures painted on glass” in the first-ever auction it had held in 1766.
Its first representative office opened in India 25 years ago in 1994, while Christie’s first India auction was held in Mumbai in December 2013, and continues to be the most memorable auction for Singh, who joined Christie’s in 2007.
“We had offered the collection of Kekoo and Khorshed Gandhy, and I was the Head of Sale at the time. The 80-lot auction broke multiple records for Indian art that evening, including setting a new world record for Indian art,” Singh recalled.
Encouraged to visit museums and collect artefacts since her childhood, Singh considers herself opportunate to have been “familiarised with different cultures and remarkable objects, within India and abroad”.
A former director of Bodhi Art, the auctioneer studied design at Central Saint Martins in London, and Modern and Contemporary Art at Christie’s Education, before completing her Master’s degree in Art Business.
While her work at Christie’s entails meeting “extraordinary collectors, experienced curators and great artists”, it also involves closely watching the art market.
“The Indian art scene is growing. Our inclusion of Indian art annually in our Hong Kong sales, along with international events like the Venice Biennale and Kochi-Muziris Biennale create a platform for Indian art to be more accessible to a much wider audience.
“I believe we will see many international collectors looking more at Indian art. Not only will we see many reputed international galleries and museums hosting shows for Indian artists, but also an increasing number of Indian galleries participating at international art fairs with private Indian initiatives to support young national artists in India and abroad,” she said.
Christie’s largely offers Indian art in its annual South Asian Modern and Contemporary auction in New York, London and Hong Kong. As part of the South Asian art community, Christie’s works closely with the Serendipity Arts Festival, India Art Fair, Kanoria Centre and the Mumbai Galleries network.
What is upcoming and exciting at Christie’s India?
Singh mentions it is going to be an exciting year, with an August Mumbai preview of a New York art auction and Christie’s second India Week in Mumbai in December. She also encourages Indian collectors to follow online sales of the international auction house.
(Siddhi Jain can be contacted at [email protected])