Tushar Sethi is sitting on the top floor of the Institute of Contemporary Indian Art (ICIA) gallery, in Mumbai’s heritage Kala Ghoda district. In the room is artist Justin Ponmany’s Night Crossroad 001, a mysterious black-and-green painting, hanging alongside Indonesian artist Entang Wiharso’s 2012 You Lost When Someone Felt Hurt, which is somewhere between sculpture and beaten metal relief. Other works from the upcoming AstaGuru digital auction — a part of ICIA’s portfolio and slated for August 22-23 — are on display too, the most arresting of which is Subba Ghosh’s Precipice, a lifelike work of a woman balancing on a tilted stool.
The 11-year-old platform is part of just a handful of auction houses in the country. While Sotheby’s and Christie’s are the best-known international names, local names include SaffronArt and Pundole’s. Sethi, however, believes there is room for more home-grown names. “China has 300 auction houses. So when we look at India having just three, it is a really small number,” says the AstaGuru CEO.
China comes up often in our conversation, whether it’s about art prices or the auction eco-system. According to Sethi, Chinese contemporary artists already sell for $20 million, which is something India’s masters — Raza, Souza, Hussain, Gaitonde — have been unable to crack. He looks at art and cultural heritage as a form of soft power which, when wielded right, can be beneficial for the country and its art ecosystem