Amazed by antiquities

Amazed by antiquities
As the new CEO of online auction house, Saffronart, Hugo Weihe has laid out a roadmap to promote India’s vibrant-yet-widely ignored antiquities and miniature art segment. Under this new plan, the former international director of Asian Art at Christie’s hopes to shift buyers’ perception by highlighting the importance of antiquities and sculptures.

“If you display a beautiful Chola bronze sculpture people don’t know about, you are bound to get reactions when they look at it in the light. They would see how beautiful it is and would want to learn more about it. Great things like these haven’t been presented here,” Weihe says.

“In the modern market, people are mature and understand art well. They know how everything works, but this necessarily isn’t the case with sculptures. People don’t know what sort of a condition it is acceptable in. Suppose an arm of the sculpture is broken, but it is 1,000 years old.

How would you price it? So, in case of antiquity it is the history that matters the most,” he adds.

Weihe joined Christie’s in 1998 and established the Department of Indian and Southeast Asian Art. It was on his proposal that Christie’s held its first Indian auction in Mumbai in December 2013, where modernist painter V S Gaitonde’s abstract work sold for a world record at Rs 23.7 crore.

His complete understanding of Indian art market is what makes Weihe optimistic about the promises India holds in the global scenario. “India already has a sculpture tradition which goes back to 5,000 years. So, personally for me, antiquities are the best thing about the Indian market. They have never had a proper platform to flourish.”

For his new role, Weihe will be shuttling between Mumbai and New York, but he is constantly involved in every single step. Talking forward this much-cherished dream of highlighting India’s rich sculpture tradition, Weihe promises to bring together rarest and important pieces in December auction.

“Indian antiquities law is a bit difficult, but it is absolutely possible to work within existing framework. So you can easily find old Indian collections which are registered with the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) and a new buyer can register his name as well,” he says, adding the antiquities and sculptures for this auction would be from the Chola and Medieval periods.

Weihe, who has a PhD in art history, understands that the masterpieces are hard to come by. He suggests that the time is ripe to expand the field in India. Talking about StoryLtd, Saffronart’s online brand that deals with popular art, folk tradition and Bollywood, Weihe says, “We are going to look at it carefully and understand how do we plan to expand it in India and what are the opportunities. This is equally important for the overall understanding and vitality of the creative world.” “Art is all about how you look at it, I hope we are able to change people’s perception,” he says.

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