January 27, 2012 9:03 pm

The art market: All new in Delhi

The fourth edition of the India Art Fair gets under way while Gagosian is again targeted in a lawsuit

The fourth edition of the India Art Fair – and the first with a new name, new investors and in a new, off-centre location – got under way this week in a 14,000 sq m tent in South Delhi. The tent, hired for the occasion, was light and roomy, and was hailed by many exhibitors as a great improvement on its former home, the Pragati Maidan exhibition hall, dubbed a “lugubrious dinosaur” by Peter Nagy of Nature Morte; however, the new location has its downside, being sited a good hour from the centre when traffic is bad. “The big question is, will people come back a second time?” wondered Sree Goswami of Mumbai’s Project 88. “Sales at fairs are no longer made immediately, as was the case a few years ago.”

The event has now achieved “museum status”, meaning art can be brought in without the payment of duty up front, as was previously the case. But while this is a boost to the event, anything sold to a resident Indian attracts both sales tax and duty – so it is still better to conclude transactions outside the country. Many dealers as a result were reporting “reserves” rather than hard deals.

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Among buyers on the first day were the leading Dhaka-based collectors Rajeeb and Nadia Samdani, who bought a Rashid Rana from Lisson and were tempted by a Hirst butterfly piece at White Cube. Tasveer Gallery was very successful with images of animals in Indian palaces by Karen Knorr, priced from €6,000-€14,500, all going to private Indian collectors.

The fair has certainly made a bold step up, with higher quality overall and a more international roster, including “big box” galleries Hauser & Wirth and White Cube. There were some big prices as well: two El Anatsui tapestries were on offer at Sakshi for $800,000 each and a blingy Hirst gilded cabinet with zircon “diamonds” was priced at £525,000 at White Cube. At Paul Kasmin, Walton Ford’s take on King Kong, “Untitled” (2011), was priced at $250,000.

Painting of King Kong

Walton Ford’s ‘Untitled’ (2011) at Paul Kasmin

The event attracted an impressive roll-call of visitors, including Tate Modern director Chris Dercon, New Museum’s Lisa Phillips with a group of trustees, the collector of Chinese art Guy Ullens, noted local collectors Lekha Poddar and Kiran Nadar, and a phalanx of auction-house people, including Sotheby’s chairman Robin Woodhead.

Still in the Indian subcontinent, the Samdanis are organising Bangladesh’s first ever art fair. They are holding the Dhaka Art Summit in partnership with the National Museum of Arts and supported by the Dhaka cultural ministry on April 12-15. “Galleries in Dhaka don’t represent artists in the same way as elsewhere,” says Nadia. “We are creating a platform so the world can get to know our artists better.” She cites Bangladesh’s first inclusion at last year’s Venice Biennale as a step to greater exposure and says 300 artists will be on show this April. Then the fair will skip a year, next taking place in January 2014, to coincide with the India Art Fair and allowing collectors to visit both events in one trip.

Starting on January 30 in Paris, Christie’s is paying homage to the influential French art critic and curator Michel Tapié (1909-1987) with a show of many of the renowned artists he brought to public attention. These include French postwar artists such as Dubuffet – including his portrait of Tapié – and Mathieu, members of the Japanese Gutai group such as Motonaga and Shimamoto, US abstract expressionists including De Kooning, Jackson Pollock and many more. “We have borrowed from collectors, from the artists themselves and through the galleries Tapié advised,” says Alexandre Carel of Christie’s. More than a dozen of the works of art are for sale, at prices between €150,000 and €2m. The exhibition also marks a change in French law that allows auction houses in the country to carry out private treaty sales, something that was forbidden until last year.

In New York, Gagosian is again targeted in a lawsuit brought by an elderly art collector, another of whose paintings was the subject of a legal battle two years ago. The plaintiff, Jan Cowles, 93, is the mother of the former art dealer Charles Cowles, and at issue is Roy Lichtenstein’s oil-on-enamel “Girl in Mirror” (1964, edition of eight). According to her complaint, her son – in “desperate financial condition” – consigned the work to Gagosian without her knowledge or approval. The gallery agreed to sell the work for no less than $3m, on which it would take $500,000 commission. But after it was unsold at Frieze and Basel, it finally went to an unnamed buyer at a lower price – thought to be $2m – because it was “badly damaged”, according to Gagosian, who allegedly took $1m commission on the trade.

Cowles’s suit claims Gagosian switched two condition reports, and that the damaged work was in fact a second “Girl in Mirror” from the same edition, belonging to Agnes Gund, president emerita of New York’s MoMA. But Gagosian’s lawyers say that the Gund work is an oil on canvas, and the claim that reports were switched is based on a “faulty document back-up system and its production was an honest mistake” by the conservator.

Cowles is asking for $10m in punitive damages, accusing Gagosian of fraud, conversion (unauthorised sale) and damages for wrongful detention of property. But Gagosian’s lawyers say that Mrs Cowles and her representatives “have only themselves to blame that they failed to protect her art from the reach of her art dealer son” and that her action is without merit.

In the earlier suit, Charles Cowles sold a Mark Tansey painting from his mother’s collection through Gagosian, apparently forgetting that it was partly promised as a gift to New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art. When he discovered the problem with title, the buyer sued Gagosian and the case finally settled, with the gallery paying him $4.4m. The painting was returned and is now in the Met, “Gift of Jan and Charles Cowles”.

Correction: The next Sharjah Biennale will be held in 2013, not this year as I wrote last week.

Georgina Adam is editor-at-large of The Art Newspaper

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