Art collection of fugitive Indian billionaire to be auctioned

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A journalist takes photos of artworks once part of fugitive billionaire jeweller Nirav Modi’s collection ahead of their auction at a gallery in Mumbai. (Reuters)
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Francis Newton Souza’s “Cityscape”, left, and “Portrait of Suruchi Chand” during a media preview at the Saffron art gallery in Mumbai on Monday, March 25, 2019. (AFP)
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A staff member checks the frame of Raja Ravi Varma’s, “The Maharaja of Travancore and his younger brother welcoming Richard Temple-Grenville, 3rd Duke of Buckingham and Chandos, Governor-General of Madras (1875-80), on his official visit to Trivandram in 1880”, during a media preview at the Saffron art gallery in Mumbai on Monday, March 25, 2019. (AFP)
Updated 26 March 2019
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Art collection of fugitive Indian billionaire to be auctioned

  • Auctioneers say the sale is the first of its kind in the country
  • The sale in Mumbai of some 68 works is expected to fetch anywhere between $4.4 million and $7.3 million

MUMBAI: Indian tax authorities are hoping for a windfall with the auction on Tuesday of rare oil paintings that were once part of fugitive billionaire jeweler Nirav Modi’s collection and have been seized by the government.
Auctioneers say the sale is the first of its kind in a country where tax authorities have usually auctioned property, gold and luxury items, but not art.
After a court order allowing the auction to take place, tax authorities, who are pursuing Modi over the country’s largest bank fraud, appointed professional auction house Saffronart.
The sale in Mumbai of some 68 works is expected to fetch anywhere between $4.4 million and $7.3 million (300 million and 500 million rupees).
“Until a few years ago, the tax authorities really didn’t know the value of art,” said Farah Siddiqui, an art adviser who is advising clients eyeing Modi’s collection.
The 48-year-old Modi, whose diamonds have sparkled on Hollywood stars, is one of the primary accused in a $2 billion loan fraud at state-run Punjab National Bank. Modi denies the charges and believes they are politically motivated.
The auction comes just weeks before a national election and as Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi faces pressure to bring back Nirav Modi (no relation), who fled the country last year and has been residing in the United Kingdom.
He was arrested last week by British authorities and remanded in custody after he appeared before a London court. India asked Britain last August to extradite Modi.
The auction includes works by Raja Ravi Varma, a 19th century painter considered among India’s finest, and V.S. Gaitonde, a modern artist known for his abstract and often monochromatic paintings.
“We believe that the collection’s intrinsic value will garner a positive response from collectors,” said Saffronart Chief Executive Dinesh Vazirani.
India Law Alliance, a law firm representing the company controlled by Modi that owns the artwork, said it was challenging the court order that allowed the auction. The case will be heard by the Bombay High Court on Wednesday, a lawyer at the firm told Reuters.
Vijay Aggarwal, a lawyer for Modi, declined to comment.


‘Age-Old Cities’ exhibition in Riyadh museum breathes new life into ancient sites 

Updated 19 April 2019
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‘Age-Old Cities’ exhibition in Riyadh museum breathes new life into ancient sites 

  • National Museum in Riyadh hosts digital show that tells the story of Mosul, Palmyra, Aleppo and Leptis Magna

JEDDAH: An exhibition that uses digital technology to revive the region’s ancient sites and civilizations that have been destroyed or are under threat due to conflict and terrorism opened at the National Museum in Riyadh on April 18.

“Age-Old Cities” tells the story of four historically significant cities that have been devastated by violence: Mosul in Iraq, Palmyra and Aleppo in Syria, and Leptis Magna in Libya. 

Using stunning giant-screen projections, virtual reality, archival documents and images, and video testimonials from inhabitants of the affected sites, the immersive exhibition transports visitors back in time and presents the cities as they were in their prime. 

It charts their journey from the origins of their ancient civilizations to their modern-day state, and presents plans for their restoration and repair. 

The exhibition has been organized by the Ministry of Culture in collaboration with the Institut du Monde Arabe in Paris. Riyadh is the first stop outside the French capital on the exhibition’s global tour. 

The exhibition follows last month’s unveiling of the Kingdom’s new cultural vision, which included the announcement of several initiatives, including a new residency scheme for international artists to practice in the Kingdom and the establishment of the Red Sea International Film Festival. 

Prince Badr bin Abdullah bin Farhan Al-Saud, minister of culture, said: “I am delighted to welcome the ‘Age-Old Cities’ exhibition to Riyadh. 

“It highlights the importance of heritage preservation, particularly here in the Middle East, and the vulnerability of some of our historic sites. 

“It must be the responsibility of governments to put an end to this damage and neglect, and to put heritage at the heart of action, investment, and policy.

“I will be encouraging my fellow members of government to attend this eye-opening exhibition in our National Museum, and hope to work in the future with partners, governments and experts to do what we can to secure our region’s heritage.”

The exhibition carries a significant message about the importance of preserving and protecting these precious but fragile sites — one which resonates strongly in the week when one of the world’s most-famous heritage sites, Paris’ Notre-Dame Cathedral, went up in flames.