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Decoding the craft of curating a Christie's auction

If building trust with contacts and sources defines a journalist's professional prowess, similar qualities contribute in curating Christie's annual sales that acquires coveted and enviable artworks from various traders, sources and personal collectors on the basis of relationships nurtured over several decades.

New Delhi: If building trust with contacts and sources defines a journalist's professional prowess, similar qualities contribute in curating Christie's annual sales that acquires coveted and enviable artworks from various traders, sources and personal collectors on the basis of relationships nurtured over several decades.

On the surface, the job profile of a curator at times does give an impression of relative ease. Of sitting in a comfort zone and slowly understanding an artist's work, his/her life and times at a painstakingly slow pace. But this ease drops suddenly when the badge carries the weight of a renowned international auction house and, in turn, bestows one with additional responsibility and a penchant for networking and growing into a powerhouse of knowledge.

"We have to have knowledge of how many works of an artist are in the market, how many are with private collectors and the like. It is a small world where one has to be passionate about the work one does," Deepanjana Klein, international head of department for modern and contemporary Indian art, told repoters in an interview.

"Most of the time we spend in building relationship with our sources, traders and personal collectors," she added.

New York-based Klein was in the capital recently for the preview of Christie's second India sale in Mumbai Dec 11, after its successfully debut last year, when modernist artist Vasudeo Gaitonde's "Untitled" was sold for Rs 23.7 crore - the highest price for a modern work of art in this country.

The resounding success has raised expectation levels, which a team of specialists has been taking care of ever since the catalogue of the first India auction was
ready.

"We start thinking about what is next when we are done with one catalogue," pointed out Klein, who handles India, London and New York sales of modern and contemporary art.

Systematic and well-planned strategies are building blocks for the grand finale. Looking for "anchor pieces" initiates the process. This stage is important because it provides the basic structure of how the general composition of the sale will look like.

"Suppose we have an auction of 80 lots, we first start chasing for 20-25 works for the anchor pieces. Once we get 10, we start looking at which other artists
their contemporaries were," Klein explained.

After collating the entire information comes the detailed task of putting estimates to each work. This requires scanning their history, condition, prominence, exhibition details and how "desirable" and "coveted" they have been in their lifespan.

In short, their merits should be the highlights of their resume and their incredible journey should reflect in their passport.

Giving an example of artist Ram Kumar's "Untitled" painting from 1958 that would go under the hammer at the upcoming auction, Klein explained how "rarity" too plays a pivotal role in putting a price tag to a piece.

"This work is a part of his short-lived oeuvre and we kept that in mind as well as its excellent condition," said Klein, adding the oil on canvas painting is estimated at $366,800-$448,300.

"Even though it is smaller in size than some others, it has been estimated at a higher price because of its rarity," she added.

Apart from this, Tyeb Mehta's "Untitled" - that is leading this year's sale with an estimated price of $1,385,500-$1,956,000 - Nobel laureate Rabindranath Tagore's hand-written pocket book that carries mundane land transactions, a few poems and songs and 10 works by contemporary artists will be auctioned at the sale.

However, Klein admitted that prices should be "real" and "genuine" so that chances of being sold are bright.

But one of the most challenging aspect of this grueling exercise is to "convince" personal collectors to let go of their prized possessions.

"Emotional sentiments are associated with these works and many collectors refuse to part ways with them. This part is extremely tricky and can be achieved only with
persuasion, goodwill, trust and passion," Klein concluded.

From Zee News

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