Sunny Chandiramani VP, Client Relations, at AstaGuru Auction House. She joined AstaGuru almost a decade ago and has contributed to over 50 auctions. Being a veteran in this field, she understands not only the importance of each artwork but also the market fundamentals and statistics. She speaks to us about her career and her journey so far at India’s premiere auction house:
What is it like to be a woman leader in an auction house that has been largely dominated by men?
It’s a very proud feeling. However, what makes me happier is that women are playing important roles in almost every department at AstaGuru. Whether it is a forefront role such as client relations and auction curation or working from behind the scenes for other departments like Restoration, Marketing or Content, women are offering substantial contributions to the overall functioning of AstaGuru. While I am of the view that success and achievements should not be analysed from the standpoint of gender, it makes me truly ecstatic that AstaGuru takes the spirit of gender equality very seriously and has been a staunch advocate of the same. Our CEO, Mr. Tushar Sethi, is to be credited for this as he has been a consistent source of inspiration and encouragement to each one of us through the years.
Tell us your journey to leading over 50 successful auctions at AstaGuru. What are the challenges you faced and how you overcame them?
Since I joined AstaGuru in 2013, it’s been an extremely gratifying experience of understanding the various nuances of Modern Indian Art. I joined AstaGuru coming from a non-art background, and therefore, there has been a great learning curve. Whether it is identifying milestones of several revered Indian modernists or examining the evolution of Modern Indian Art as a whole, I have been on a constant journey of extensive study, research, and exploration to develop an eye for the auction industry. With every auction, I became more self-assured. Some other challenges have been in line with the unprecedented changes that the world has faced in recent years. But, what gave us an edge is that the rest of the world had to adapt to being ‘online’, whereas, we were able to easily transcend as AstaGuru has always conducted online auctions. However, we did face certain problems with the changes all around us, but we successfully managed to wade through them. Overcoming these challenges reinforced our commitment to consistently showcasing timeless treasures to our clients.
What is your industry perspective on how women are now breaking glass ceilings in the art world & inspiring other women? Be it female artists, collectors, bidders etc.
The last couple of decades have been extremely important in bringing greater acknowledgement to women in the art world. Women artists have made their presence felt at several high-profile exhibitions. Grand retrospectives at reputed institutes and museums have resulted in exponential inquiry concerning the artistic accomplishments of India’s women artists in recent years. Be it Arpita Singh’s retrospective – ‘Six Decades of Painting’ that took place at Kiran Nadar Museum of Art, New Delhi, or Nalini Malani’s retrospective at Centre Pompidou, Paris, women artists have been consistently gaining critical acclaim. At the same time, phenomenal auction results achieved for works by women artists have made the collector community sit up and take note. These triumphs, celebrating the mastery of women artists, indicate that the ecosystem of the art market in India is now witnessing progress towards giving them their long-overdue recognition. Senior contemporary artists like Anju Dodiya or Bharti Kher have also been lauded for their unique works and practices. The same has been the case with women in other spheres of the Indian art world.
Irrespective of being a collector, bidder, gallerist, an art writer or a critic, women are breaking the glass ceiling across the world. Similarly, when it comes to forging a career in the auction industry, women are partaking in several aspects of the functioning of an auction house. They are doing some outstanding curation and restoration work. They are also supporting departments like Logistics, Marketing and PR, and Content to mention a few.
What are your Top 3 favourite women artists and why do you find them inspiring?
I will pick Amrita Sher-Gil, because she is undoubtedly one of the greatest avant-garde women artists of the early 20th century, who single-handedly put Indian art on the global map. Even eight decades after her untimely death in 1941, she continues to be the crowning glory of numerous auctions and exhibitions representing Indian art. Another of my favourite women artists would be Meera Mukherjee due to the unique works that she created. Her artistic journey was marked by the use of innovative bronze casting techniques. She was also instrumental in ameliorating the traditional Dhokra style sculpture by employing lost-wax casting which she learned during her stay among the artisans in the Bastar region in central India. I am also a big fan of works by artist Arpita Singh. With a unique style and technique, each of her compositions tells a story of its own. I really admire the way she examines and presents her perspective on the lives of women by scattering her canvases with a complex web of elements drawn from various sources which include personal experiences, mythology, fiction and Bengali folklore.
Advice to the next generation of women looking to make an impact in the art world?
The Indian art space is extremely vibrant with innumerable art practitioners who have a distinct visual vocabulary. Working in a range of mediums, they are constantly experimenting to create unique works that surpass the traditional definition of art. My advice to them all including women artists is to stay true to your work and be open to learning always as understanding the nuances of the art world is an ongoing process.