Dr. Deepanjana Klein, Senior Specialist and International Head of Department for South Asian Modern/ Contemporary Art at Christie’s
Christie’s will auction on September 13 a remarkable collection of Indian, Himalayan and South-East Asian works of art in New York. There are several stunning pieces on offer but the gray schist figure of a Bodhisattva stands out. It is 200 centimetres high and described as one of the rarest Gandharan figures in circulation. Dating back to the second or third century, Christie’s estimates its value to be between $600,000 and $800,000.
As the auction house’s Senior Specialist and International Head of Department for South Asian Modern/ Contemporary Art Deepanjana Klein (DK) has been intimately involved in the upcoming sale.
“While the handsome facial features and muscular body is reminiscent of Greco-Roman style sculpture which heavily influenced Gandharan art, the soft sway of the figure’s hips and stance foreshadows the Gupta style that developed and flourished in India in later centuries,” Klein explains.
A PhD in Indian Art History from De Montfort University in the UK Dr. Klein has taught art history, art theory and aesthetics at the Leicester School of Architecture in the UK and at the Kamla Raheja Vidyanidhi Institute for Architecture and Environmental Studies in Mumbai.
A Christie’s backgrounder describes her as a professional who “played a central role in acquiring the business of the estate of (the iconic Indian painter) Francis Newton Souza (1924-2002), one of the most historic sales in the category.”
Dr. Klein answered via email questions from The Indian Diaspora on the upcoming sale.
TID: Browsing through your catalogue it strikes me that all of the Indian, Himalayan and Southeast Asian works of art are essentially religious or mythological. Does that help or hinder their popularity at auction like yours?
DK: Quite the contrary. Collectors are often drawn to these works for their spirituality. Because of their connection to ancient religious traditions, these works carry an added layer of meaning. However, you don’t have to be a Buddhist to enjoy a beautiful Buddhist sculpture, or a Hindu to appreciate a Hindu work of art. Many collectors simply appreciate the works for their beauty and unique imagery.
TID: Is it that serious collectors and connoisseurs are motivated more by their craftsmanship, antiquity and potential return on investment rather than religious/cultural significance?
DK: Yes, many collectors are simply connoisseurs of artistic mastery. The Newar’s of ancient Nepal are renowned for their masterful casting techniques. The details in many Indian court paintings can be mind-bogglingly fine. These types of aesthetic features have nothing to do with religion and everything to do with artistic excellence.
TID: Would you care to describe the process of choosing which figures are offered during such auctions?
DK: The works are chosen for various reasons. Typically, they have to be of a subject matter, time period, and quality that is desirable to our clients. We strive to choose works we genuinely love.
TID: Is each piece individually debated upon and then a theme developed or you see what is available and curate a theme around it?
Pieces are often brought in individually or in collections. As we build sales, we keep in mind that the categories are each well-balanced and well-represented, so that there is for instance a varied section of Gandharan art, a strong section of Nepalese bronzes, etc.
TID: Between paintings and sculptures and figures which one is a more profitable market?
DK: Currently, the market is stronger for sculptures, Himalayan in particular. Rare and quality works of any medium will do extremely well, however.
TID: There are several stunning pieces being offered but the gray schist figure of a Bodhisattva stands out. Would you like to share a bit of its story, how it came to be and who might have been the artist or a group of artists notwithstanding that it is so old?
DK: This work is an extremely rare Gandharan figure in circulation because it is a skillfully carved, monumental figure, clearly intended to be a prominent sculpture. Great care was taken when carving the details of jewelry and drapery. While the handsome facial features and muscular body is reminiscent of Greco-Roman style sculpture which heavily influenced Gandharan art, the soft sway of the figure’s hips and stance foreshadows the Gupta style that developed and flourished in India in later centuries.
TID: I have always been curious about the challenge of the antiquities laws of the countries of these works’ origins and how a leading auction house like yours grapples with them.
DK: It is important to recognize that a free market for circulation of properly vetted antiquity benefits everyone who wishes to learn about the history of other cultures in different periods. We at Christie’s are committed to upholding a fair and licit market, and in that respect we adhere to all rules and regulations stipulated by the US government.
Furthermore, in the absence of any laws pertaining to a cultural property from a particular culture, we have a stringent internal regulation which we apply to all works of Gandharan, Himalayan, Indian, and Southeast Asian origin. We firmly believe that there is no substitute for viewing works of antiquity in person, and in absence of the opportunity to travel it is one of the best ways people can educate themselves and learn about the history of the world.
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