Rare treat for art lovers as Hirst comes to India

Neelam Raaj

NEW DELHI: Indian artists have gone global and now, international auction houses are hoping desi buyers will too. In a bid to tempt Indian collectors, who have shown an inclination only for homebred artists till now, into buying western art, Sotheby's is bringing highlights from its upcoming sale of Damien Hirst's works to India. Besides giving potential buyers a preview of the September sale in London, it will give art lovers here a rare chance to see Hirst's work.

The showing — the artist's first-ever in India — will be held at the Capital's Oberoi Hotel on August 28. Hirst, known for his trademark dead animals in formaldehyde, is Britain's richest living artist and perhaps its most provocative. He is groundbreaking not just as an artist but also in the way he markets his art. By tying up with Sotheby's to sell his latest body of work at an auction, he's circumvented the traditional dealer, gallery system.

And he's expected to reap the profits. The two-day London auction of works which come straight from the Hirst's studio is expected to fetch in excess of 65m pounds ($125m approx). The Golden Calf, the centrepiece of the 'Beautiful Inside My Head Forever' sale, is expected to realise 12m pounds ($24m approx). Though the Calf with its 18-carat gold horns and hooves will not be travelling to India, 14 other works — including Hirst's top-selling butterfly paintings, skulls and some bling — will be showcased here. Also travelling to Delhi will be a Tyeb Mehta work from his Falling Figure With Bird series. The piece, a highlight from Sotheby's upcoming New York auction of Asian and contemporary art, is valued at $1-1.5m.

Oliver Barker, senior international specialist at Sotheby's, said the Hirst exhibition in India was part of a broader corporate strategy to focus on emerging markets. Not surprising, since a lot of demand in the global market is being driven by wealthy Chinese, Indian and Middle Eastern investors.

"Till now, Indian collectors — both resident and non-resident — have shown an interest in art originating from their own culture but now they are thinking global. This is a relatively new phenomenon," says Barker.

Interestingly, the reverse is also true with western collectors like Frank Cohen and Francois Pinault showing an increasing appetite for Indian art. So much so that works of Indian artists like Subodh Gupta (dubbed the Damien Hirst of Delhi) are not relegated to some ethnic category at international auctions but mixed with the best from around the world. Thus, a Gupta frame is alongside art by Damien Hirst and Andy Warhol in the same auction.

So it isn't a surprise that now, Damien is looking Delhi-ward. "People will be blown away by the scale and ambition of Hirst's collection. I think he's interested in getting work into parts of the world that have not had the opportunity of buying major pieces before, including India, China and Russia - and we've certainly had a lot of interest from collectors in these places."

Paddle in hand, the Indian buyer is an increasingly common sight in global art auctions. And now, his palette is turning global too.

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