By: Sallie Brady
It’s a new year: Time to adjust the fair calendar. If you live in New York, you’ll find yourself making fewer trips to the Park Avenue Armory. A dramatic rent increase continues to claim the lives of smaller specialty fairs such as Sanford Smith’s Works on Paper, which usually runs in February, and the Haughton International Fine Art Fair, which is typically in early May and is likely to be shelved, at least in its present incarnation, this year. Dealers are increasingly finding it more economical to band together for themed weeks, showing from their own gallery or a host gallery.
If you’re in London, you’ll be busy. The English capital is birthing new antiques fairs like spring rabbits, with a half-dozen said to be on for June. Joining a lineup that includes the London International Fine Art Fair (June 4–13), the rebranding of the Summer Olympia fair under David and LeeAnn Lester’s management, is Art Antiques London (June 9–16), a new fair of 60 top dealers organized by Brian and Anna Haughton in a luxury tent in Kensington Gardens, which will also include the couple’s long-running International Ceramics Fair & Seminar. French fair dealer-organizer Patrick Perrin says he’ll be mounting a new fair (June 24–27) with 50 exhibitors. The West London Fine Art & Antiques Fair (June 3–6), organized by 30-year veteran English fair organizer Caroline Penman, will absorb some of the classic, mid-price-range British dealers of antiques who left Olympia when the Lesters took over. And finally, Masterpiece (June 24–29), the ambitious bling fair that’s likely to be one-third luxury goods and two-thirds art and antiques, organized by former Grosvenor House dealers Ronald Phillips, Mallett, Apter-Fredericks and Asprey, is said to be receiving last-minute permission this month.
Is there enough cash from collectors and museums to sustain all these fairs? In Europe, yes, if the fall fair season is an indicator. The antiques trade got started with a bang in late September with the newly styled LAPADA Art & Antiques Fair in London’s Berkeley Square. Sales were bullish, even for brown furniture.
Deals were also being made in Italy when the 50th anniversary of the biennial Florence International Antiques Fair saw a more international mix than had been offered here previously, with 18 foreign galleries and 72 Italians showing in the elegant Palazzo Corsini. The big surprise was the number of Americans shopping. “These are clients I only see at Maastricht,” says Edward Clark of London’s Whitfield Fine Art, a sentiment that was echoed by many of his colleagues.
Sales included a six-figure Giandomenico Tiepolo, Head of a Philosopher With a Red Hat, offered by New York dealer Adam Williams; a sexy seated nude by Giovanni Boldini that Robilant + Voena of Milan and London say they could have sold again for €350,000; and dozens of pieces of Doccia porcelain, hugely popular with Trinity Fine Art’s American clients, selling in the $500–13,000 range. The fair’s only drawback was that nonresidents of Italy weren’t always able to buy what they fancied. To preserve the country’s cultural heritage, Italian authorities “notify” pieces that cannot leave the country. “Notificato, notificato,” grumbled one English dealer, pointing to various objects in his booth. “They hand out these citations like parking tickets.”
Although it was smaller this year and missing some of its prestige galleries, a well-performing Art London was a sign that the middle market for contemporary and modern art still has buyers. Blue Leaf Gallery of Dublin, first-time exhibitors, gambled on a solo show of abstract figurative paintings by Marty Kelly. It paid off when the gallery sold its entire booth. Tanya Baxter Contemporary and Kings Road Gallery, both of London, sold paintings and serigraphs by Indian masters S.H. Raza and M.F. Husain.
Next up was a buzzy reincarnation—the Pavilion of Art & Design fair (formerly DesignArt London). It was organized by Perrin, who produces its French sibling in March. The combination of quality 20th-century design, modern art and stunning stands proved irresistible to buyers. A Gallic Eurostar invasion was there, with its strong euro, on opening night, as were plenty of Argentines, Brazilians and wealthy Russians, all buying. The Brits, however, didn’t linger–Champagne for £10 a flute at a vernissage is not the way things are done here. New York dealer Barry Friedman sold glass pieces by Yoichi Ohira; London dealer Gordon Watson reported strong sales of Italian mid-century design to South Americans; Richard Nagy sold a number of German Expressionist drawings.
Days later in New York, at the International Fine Art & Antique Dealers Show, there was pent-up demand for top quality. Apter-Fredericks sold its 1775 Worsley chairs for $120,000 and a Gillow’s cabinet for $250,000. Drawings proved extremely popular at Agnew’s, where Christopher Kingzett was putting red dots on everything from Giovanni Battista Tiepolo’s Adoration of the Magi for about $250,000 to an Elisabeth Frink pencil Horse Study (1984) for $50,000.
Attendees said the look of the fair actually benefited from a shake-up this year. The 15 dealers who didn’t return—including Richard Green of London—were replaced by 21 new exhibitors, including the Tomasso Brothers and Erik Thomsen, who sold numerous pairs of Japanese screens, in the $30,000–160,000 range.
A month later, also in New York, Sanford Smith also shook things up when he combined two fairs into one: Modernism + Art20. It was an experiment that paid off, with some dealers selling to crossover collectors. But others say New Yorkers were only looking for bargains. A highlight was the work of Antoine Schapira, a contemporary ébéniste whose sculptural pieces, starting at $12,000, were with Good Design gallery of New York. Paul Donzella steadily sold his 1950s Italian pieces.
As the year ended, the modern and contemporary art crowds realized they will now have to squeeze in yet another fair before the madness of Art Basel Miami. On Nov. 18 Abu Dhabi Art launched with a selling fair and special exhibitions. Sponsored by the government, the fair helped import big names such as Gagosian Gallery and Hauser & Wirth. With the Louvre and Guggenheim outposts on Saadiyat Island set to open in 2012, expect this fair to stick around.