By: Sallie Brady
In recent memory, there has hardly been a more tumultuous year for art and antiques fairs. In fact, before booking fall travel plans, collectors would be advised to make certain their favorite fair still exists.
This is not because dealers are not selling. Indeed, antiquities and Old Masters exhibitors at TEFAF in Maastricht in March reported a banner year, and come June, “the best fair in years” was echoed from booth to booth in the final days of London’s venerable Grosvenor House Antiques & Fine Art Fair. No, it’s the economics of staging a fair that’s proving lethal, as was the case when just two weeks following the closure of the 75th Grosvenor House fair, JW Marriott, the owner of the Grosvenor House Hotel and thus the fair, announced the event was no longer cost effective and would cease to exist. A similar casualty is the International Art + Design Fair, which was due to take place in New York in October.
The good news is that Grosvenor House’s core dealers already have plans in motion for a replacement top-end fair. These dealers include Koopman Rare Art’s Lewis Smith, who was glowing at the fair’s private view—not just from his reflection in his towering offering of silver gilt—but because he sold nearly £1 million in Regency trays and candelabra, and English furniture dealer Simon Phillips of Ronald Phillips, who within hours also emptied his booth of rare 18th-century furniture and mirrors.
London in 2010 will be full of changes. Masterpiece 2010, as the new fair is being called, pending planning permission, will take place June 25–30 in a tent at the site of the Chelsea Flower Show, running up to the second incarnation of this year’s very successful Master Paintings Week (July 3–9). Owned by a handful of dealers and Stabilo International, the Dutch event-builders that also partially own and build Maastricht, the fair intends to be a destination event, also selling luxury goods, vintage automobiles and high-end jewelry. “This has been in the works for 18 months,” says Harry Apter of Apter-Fredericks, also a part-owner. “We had the thought that Grosvenor House would at some point close.”
This news came close on the heels of major changes to the summer Olympia International Art & Antiques Fair, now dubbed the London International Fine Art Fair under the tutelage of its new part-owners, Florida fair impresarios David and Lee Ann Lester, who run the American International Fine Art Fair in Palm Beach, Fla., and are launching the Miami International Art Fair in January to cover more of the Latin American market. In London David Lester says he will create a grander international fair, targeting Russian, Indian, Middle Eastern and Asian collectors. “We’ll have more paintings, modern and contemporary, a whole section of high-end jewelry, a total of 150 to 200 dealers,” Lester says. A new minimum booth size of 18 meters means the exit of some of the smaller dealers, who had booths less than half that size and have been the fair’s sentimental mainstay. Lester also plans on moving up the fair’s dates to mid-June, assuring that it will never overlap with Art Basel. This year a Tube strike and a rocky economy made Olympia strangely quiet, despite the fact that organizers said attendance was up. However, first-time exhibitors the Tomasso Brothers reported strong sales of their European sculpture and Asian specialists; Vanderven & Vanderven also reported multiple sales.
If London goes more bling and loses some of its Englishness, where will collectors find some of their longtime favorite dealers? Many are saying at the British Antique Dealers’ Association’s Antiques & Fine Art Fair, a very elegant, top-quality event that takes place annually in March and is increasingly shopped by Americans.
One other change to the London season will be a new home for the 26-year-old International Ceramics Fair, which moves next year from Park Lane to Mall Galleries at Carlton House Terrace. This year’s fair was remarkably strong, perhaps buoyed by a weak pound. AD Antiques, Brian Haughton Gallery, and Sampson and Horne all recorded multiple purchases and many American curators.
Elsewhere in Europe art and antiques dealers reported better-than-expected fairs in troubled times. Art Basel opened to a positively packed vernissage, where even the very slim Karl Lagerfeld—and his entourage—struggled to escape the Messeplatz. New York’s L&M Arts sold a Donald Judd copper stack for under $4 million; and Jan Krugier Gallery, which had a tribute to its late owner who died earlier this year, sold a number of Picasso drawings. Overall, more conservative price tags and works meant sales, and while some Americans were buying, Europeans dominated. At Maastricht dealers reported omnipresent Americans, helped by the strong U.S. dollar earlier this year. Sales were made throughout all sectors of the fair. London’s Ben Janssens Oriental Art sold 30 pieces during the private viewing; Madrid’s Caylus sold a €4.7 million El Greco; Mallett let an impressive Georgian bookcase go to a European collector; and Hauser & Wirth of Zurich and London sold three $1 million Louise Bourgeois sculptures.
On American soil buyers were not as bullish. The canceled Asian Art Fair was sorely missed by some of its dealers, who found their Upper East Side clientele unwilling to travel to midtown for the Arts of Pacific Asia Show, which was held in a garment district showroom. But some exhibitors couldn’t share that complaint: New York’s Flying Cranes Antiques say they had one of the best fairs ever for their Japanese silverworks, and London ethnographic textile specialist Joss Graham says he saw all of his regular New York clients. Dealers in Chinese porcelain and ancient works of art also attributed the fair’s weakness to the fact that it closed on the day of Christie’s auction of Chinese art from the Arthur M. Sackler Collection. Indeed, the auction was barely over before the fair closed, with dealers saying that if it had been extended just one hour, their clients could have made it to the fair in time.
Collectors of glass and contemporary sculpture had to shift their calendars this spring when SOFA New York moved from June to April to accommodate its new sibling SOFA West, which debuted in June in Santa Fe with 33 galleries. On opening night in New York, Chicago’s Habatat Galleries was a sea of red dot, as was Santa Fe’s Blue Rain Gallery, which sold a number of Shelley Muzylowski Allen’s glass equestrian works, and the Berkshires’ Ferrin Gallery not only sold their top pieces, but reported a number of commissions from interior designers and collectors alike. Smaller dealers say that sales were down from last year.
The growing appetite for Old Masters was fed by five new dealers in the category who exhibited at May’s International Fine Art Fair, which was smaller and more quiet than in years past but witnessed some buying, including: Pierre Bonnard’s Le port des yachts (1914) from London’s Neffe-Degandt Fine Art; Frank Anderson’s Bech’s Furnace, Poughkeepsie (1867) offered by New York’s Thomas Colville Fine Art; a $550,000 Georgia O’Keeffe from Jonathan Boos; a Henri Martin painting from London’s Waterhouse & Dodd; and St. George’s Kermis With the Dance Around the Maypole by Pieter Brueghel the Younger, offered by Richard Green and said to have sold post-fair. The painting also adorned the cover of London’s Old Masters Week catalogue.
Finally, watch for more changes in emerging markets such as the United Arab Emirates. ArtParis: Abu Dhabi has been shelved for fall, but the Abu Dhabi government recently announced its own replacement, Abu Dhabi Art, which is being billed as including intenational art and design. Dubai is also in question: Despite some sales of pictures by Whitford Fine Art and animalier bronzes by the Sladmore Gallery, Art and Antiques Dubai was quiet earlier this year, a victim of the weak economic climate. Its future is also uncertain.