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Priyanka Mathew, a ‘Treasure Hunter’ and First South Asian Auctioneer at Sotheby’s, Dies of Cancer

Priyanka Mathew, a ‘Treasure Hunter’ and First South Asian Auctioneer at Sotheby’s, Dies of Cancer

  • An accomplished Tango dancer and former banker in her mid-40s, the Indian American was a well-known name in the New York art circles.

Priyanka Mathew, a principal partner at Sunderlande, who was battling cancer, died on September 29. The Indian American, who was in her mid-40s, was a well-known name in the New York art circles. Mathew forayed into the world of fine arts after many years as a banker. Her Twitter profile describes her as “a South Asian Art dealer. Argentine Tango dancer. Foodie. Traveler wanderer. A happy ex-banker.”

Priyanka Mathew at her home in New York City in June 2022. Top photo, Mathew at the Sotheby’s in 2014. (Photos, Facebook)

Before working at Sunderlande, an art advisory that focuses on South Asian Art, she worked at Sotheby’s in New York. She joined the auction house in 2010, and two years later, she was initiated as the first South Asian auctioneer in its 272-year history. She also helped set up the Sotheby’s India office as regional director. An accomplished Tango dancer, she has participated in several dance competitions all over the world.

Friends and acquaintances took to social media to remember the “vivacious, friendly, endearing and witty” Mathew who had the joie de vivre and zest for life. Many posted pictures of her and memories of times spent with her — whether it was a last-minute garden party at her home, or a soiree at an art gallery, a pre-auction event, or globe-trotting.

Mathew had “a unique flair for helping clients connect the dots between historic significance, monetary value, and emotional connection with works from leading South Asian artists,” according to her Sunderlande profile.

“In India, we are so incredibly blessed because we are a society that has millennia of art and culture, but what is lacking is an institutional way of accessing this art.”

In an interview with India’s Verve magazine, Mathew said art is inherent to her and hoped that it would become “increasingly common” amongst more Indians. “In India, we are so incredibly blessed because we are a society that has millennia of art and culture, but what is lacking is an institutional way of accessing this art,” she said. “It is not quite as high a priority as it is in the west. In places like Europe, kids just grow up going to museums.”

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Priyanka Mathew was a passionate Tango dancer.

She recalled going to the Prado in Madrid where she saw “a group of six-year-old children sitting around one very interesting painting of a nude woman, which I think would be taboo” in India. “They were just discussing the painting because that curiosity is really inbred early. Here it is different. You need to make a little bit more of an effort to go and search for art. It’s not right there.”

After graduating from the University of Virginia, Mathew entered the finance field as an analyst at Lehman Brothers and then at Goldman Sachs. After five years in the investment banking field, she left to join the Indian art world as the director of Aicon Gallery, a leading gallery showcasing modern South Asian Art. Under her tenure, Aicon became the largest gallery for South Asian Art in the world, operating in New York, Palo Alto, and London.

At Sotheby’s she was responsible “for market-changing auction records like Amrita Shergil’s Self Portrait that sold for $2.9m which set a world record price for a female South Asian modern painter,” her Sunderlande profile says. She has worked with “the most prominent collections spread over the globe and has brought to market key paintings such as the ‘Blue Tyeb’ from the Glenberra Museum of Art in Japan and Gaitonde’s paintings No. 1 and No. 3, as well as on auctions of critical and market-defining collections such as the Amaya Collection.”

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