Sotheby’s Sued By Indian Business Partner B. K. Modi

The auction house claims it's free to do business independently.

Sotheby's New York headquarters. Photo by Stephen Chernin/Getty Images.

Sotheby’s has been sued by Indian company Smart Entertainment Ltd over the alleged breach of a joint venture agreement for business conducted in India, the Economic Times reports. The joint venture, Sotheby’s India Pvt Ltd, was created in the 1990s. Smart Entertainment, which is backed by Singapore-based industrialist B.K. Modi, filed a suit in the Delhi High Court on Friday as the auction house conducted a preview event in the Indian capital.

Speaking to the paper, Rishabh Tongya, the director of Sotheby’s India Pvt Ltd explained, “We have had a 50:50 joint venture with Sotheby’s for the last 25 years and it is discouraging to note that they are completely ignoring the Indian partner, now that opportunities in the art market are opening up in India.”

However, Sotheby’s representatives have maintained that they were not engaged in a an exclusive agreement with Smart Entertainment Ltd or Modi, himself, thus allowing them to conduct independent business such as the preview event.

Thrown in collaboration with Rolls Royce, the preview featured works for Sotheby’s upcoming sale of Modern and Contemporary South Asian art , including pieces by prominent Indian artists V. S. Gaitonde, Jehangir Sabavala, M.F. Husain, Jagdish Swaminathan and Ram Kumar.

The court accepted Smart Entertainment Ltd’s suit and said, “The holding of the exhibition/auction will be subject to the orders passed by the court.”

In a statement sent to artnet News, Sotheby’s says, “Sotheby’s position is that no joint venture was ever formally conducted with the Modis. We are able to conduct business in India without reference to them. We understand that proceedings have been initiated in the High Court of Delhi against Art Development (India) Limited which is a subsidiary of Sotheby’s registered in the UK. Art Development (India) Limited has not received any copy of the court order as of yet. As this matter is now before a court, Sotheby’s has no further comment.”

It’s the second time in recent weeks that Sotheby’s has found itself being dragged to court (see Angry Seller Accuses Sotheby’s of Misattributing Caravaggio). In a previous case, in which a verdict was reached in mid-January, a collector accused the auction house of being negligent in its attribution of his work, which was later re-attributed as a Caravaggio. In that case, Sotheby’s was victorious (see Sotheby’s Wins Case Over $15.8 Million Caravaggio).

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