Published: Verve Magazine, July 2014
Photograph by Toranj Kavyon
She has established herself in the art world, has the happy ability to see the lighter side of things, is inspired by nature and is a specialist and head of Christie’s Mumbai sale
“I don’t really have a normal work day, as I spend a lot of my time on road.”
The 35-year-old associate director and head of sale for South Asian Modern and Contemporary Art at Christie’s Mumbai is unlikely to be chained to a desk, and probably has the most creative mix of business and pleasure. She was partial to the arts from childhood. After studying sociology at Delhi University – where she spent a good deal of her time competing for the college at music competitions – Sonal Singh created a solid foundation for herself artistically and academically in London: ceramic design at Central St. Martins College of Art and Design, modern and contemporary art at Christie’s Education and a Master’s in art business at Sotheby’s Institute of Art. After working in the field for a few years, she joined Christie’s in 2007 when the latter decided to expand its operations in India and were looking for a resident specialist.
“Every auction that you work on is exciting – to be able to handle the art at first hand is really the most thrilling experience for someone with my passions! Having said that, being a part of the Christie’s first auction in India (December 2013) was really a dream.” While she interacted with big names in the art world at the India Habitat Centre and worked with many artists at Bodhi Art Gallery, at Christie’s she is consumed by the sheer volume and quality of art that she is exposed to – some of the world’s greatest works. “Seeing the whole process through is really gratifying – first working with the collector and getting the consignment, appraising its value and importance and then seeing it go under the hammer. Negotiating for a work can be hard but getting it into an auction is extremely satisfying; similarly the actual auction can be stressful but when an artwork sets a new record or fetches a good price, it’s the most thrilling experience.”
What would someone who works with works of art like to see on her own walls? “I like the immediacy of works on paper and this is mostly what I’ve bought. I’d love to have works by Gaitonde and Amrita Sher-Gil some day and I would like to start learning more about antiquities, in particular, Gandhara sculptures.” She likes Indian textiles, treasures family jewellery and has recently rediscovered saris, while otherwise she would be likely to be seen in churidaars for formal occasions and jeans-and-shirts on a casual note.
She works as part of a team, with colleagues based in New York, London and Mumbai. They curate auctions and aim to bring together rare, important and exquisite works of art. Not surprisingly, she is often on the move, which works well for her, as she is fascinated with planes. After work, if there aren’t any overseas conference calls scheduled, she finds time for a walk, a gallery opening or catches up with friends for dinner.
“I realised a few years ago that the people in my life are my priority and I try to spend as much time as I can with them.” Sonal Singh believes in living life on her own terms and in creating her own path; and that success is nothing more or less than “making the most of what life gives you”.