Bangalore: Bid and Hammer Auctioneers (Pvt.) Ltdis a five-year-old, Bangalore-based auction house, with the vision of emulating the Sotheby’s and Christie’sof the world. Bid and Hammer’s director Ankush Dadhais candid enough to admit an average of only 30% of the offerings at the company’s auctions get sold. But he says the value of Indian art and artefacts can only go up as Indians learn to value them and as an open auction culture develops in the country. Edited excerpts from an interview:
How many auctions have you done so far?
The carpets, rugs and tapestries auction we are doing on 11 June is our 11th one since inception. We have done modern and contemporary Indian paintings, and in January we did one on jewellery. We have two more lined up this year, one in hallmarked Indian and continental silverware in August, and one in antiquarian books, maps and prints in October, the third time for this powerful category.
Adding value: Dadha says revenue will only increase once the Indian market matures. Photo: Aniruddha Chowdhury/Mint
How many such auction houses exist in India and how active are they?
In my view, there aren’t auction houses in India—there are auctioneers. We are the only ones who cover the entire gamut. Most do only paintings, some do coins, while some are now venturing into the kind of space we are in. About 10 years ago, we had Bowrings auction house, but they are not there now.
An auction house came to be called so because they typically had house contents— whether valuable utility items or decorative art. Internationally, 70% of revenue comes from such content.
Watch what Ankush Dadha of Bid & Hammer has to say about holding the first live Indian auction in 20 years.
Nowadays a lot of investment bankers and financiers, who are looking at art as an exotic or alternative investment, are coming in to buy. Sometimes bankers form a syndicate. We tell them to have a time frame of a few years. Indian art has to go upwards, our artists are undervalued. A Hussain, say, valued at Rs70 lakh to Rs2 crore, was Rs7 lakh 10 years ago. But his skill is on par with Western artists, who might sell in the $25-30 million (around Rs140-170 crore) range.
I would say the total market is around Rs1,000 crore. Paintings alone can be that, except there was a bubble which burst, and it will take some time to regain that figure.
Before the 1972 law (to regulate trade in antiquities and art treasures), truckloads of Indian art used to get smuggled out. There were dealers who even now live in grand style off one or two deals that they made in the ’70s.
Today, the art world works in syndicates to a large extent. For high-value items, there are a limited set of buyers, and to see works come out in open auction at reasonable prices, can shake up syndicates. But we want to create an open and transparent culture.
Can you share revenue figures?
Since inception, we have had offerings worth about Rs40 crore through the open auction route, and about Rs20 crore in the private route. In the auction route, on an average, we are selling about 30% of our lots. We have gone as high as 60% (in a maps and prints auction) of the lots sold, with 77% of the value recovered.
The upcoming carpets auction has an estimated worth of Rs2 crore, with 120 items with an estimated value from Rs15,000 to Rs12 lakh. The silverware auction will have about Rs5 crore of stuff, while the books and maps will have about Rs10 crore.
We charge a commission from the seller and a premium of 17% up to Rs1 crore and 14% thereafter.
I believe there is a huge potential in India. Revenue will only increase once the market matures. Today, I can offer a Rs100 crore worth item, which may not find a market, but the same thing can sell outside. But over there they have similar items in very good condition. Here we don’t get stuff in great condition because here we don’t yet value our art and artefacts, and we have not taken good care of them. That is now changing.
What regulations apply in your space and are there issues there?
Anything over 100 years old, in some cases 75 years old, can be classified as antiquities and cannot be taken out of the country. Within the country, the seller has to transfer the ownership through the Archaeological Survey of India. There are other classifications, like “national art treasure”, which may not be as old, but still cannot be taken out of the country, like a painting by Raja Ravi Varma. These regulations are good, as they protect Indian art. I am on a panel looking at the 1972 law to see what amendments and clarifications we can bring in.
How did you get into this space?
My father, who was in pharmaceuticals, and is our chairman now, had a collection, and he eventually started dealing.
He had offers to be on the board of international auction houses. When I was in university in York, England, I started going to auctions. I saw the kind of value Indian art was getting, sometimes with Indian buyers. We felt the time was right to start a house in India. Today, we have people who have worked in Sotheby’s and Christie’s on our board or advisory panel. I feel art and money have to go together. What is the point of creating great art if the artist is living in penury?
What are your future plans?
Next year, we will do six auctions. I want to do 20 a year. Sotheby’s and Christie’s do one every day. Our long-term goal is also to do an auction a day.
Within the next couple of years we are looking at our own real estate with a preview hall in Bangalore followed by Delhi. We want to have a pan-India presence.
Once people get used to the auction culture, people travel. Today, Indian buyers travel to New York and London. Some of our biggest buyers come from Qatar, a high per capita GDP (gross domestic product) country, and there is a lot of interest there.
We are in the process of scheduling an auction in London, but our focus is in India. And we want to keep offering affordable items. Once people start buying and appreciating art, their confidence will grow, and they will go on to higher value items.