THE BLOG

Life in the Arts Lane - Week 92 - Quo Vadis?

28/10/2014 15:38 GMT | Updated 27/12/2014 10:59 GMT

It is a strange moment. I do not know where to go or what to see. There is so much going on that it seems easier to stay in bed and pull the covers up over my head and sing nursery rhymes. Frieze is in town and it has two identities - Frieze and Frieze Masters. In Berkeley Square Patrick Perrin has his launch PAD. Elsewhere private gallery shows and public exhibitions are opening like untimely spring flowers all over town. Coupled with this my alma mater Mallett has been sold to Stanley Gibbons, the group founded around the stamp people, but which now owns the auction house Dreweatts Bloomsbury, Baldwins and Apex. The difficult and challenging times that Mallett have faced over the last half-decade are entering a new chapter. This is all taking place in my backyard, so to speak. But there are even more excitements and temptations for foreign travel. Across the pond in our art world twin city of New York there is the auction of the Kentshire gallery. In addition, pushing through the notoriously heavy doors of the 7th Regiment Armory on Park Avenue you will encounter the International Fair hosted by the (appropriately) veteran fair organisers Brian and Anna Haughton.

So I am in bed and I don't know who to see or who to visit. I am flummoxed whether I should take a plane or mount my bicycle and head up to the west end. New York is the biggest pull. Back in time the principals of the business Fred and Bob used to come to London every couple of months. They bought widely from every dealer spreading good will and the dollar to happy recipients. Bob has thinning black hair and a charming calm demeanour and Fred has bushy once brown, now grey wavy hair and is full of febrile energy and NY sardonic humour. Bob's children have headed west to California and are movers and shakers in the film business, or so I gather. Fred is married to Marcie and they produced two children Mathew -sensible, steady, but fun too; and Carrie - one of the most original women to grace the planet. She has one of those imaginations that you know could go anywhere and a sense of business that would scare a Rothschild. These two have come into the antique trade. Kentshire has changed however; like so many of their generation the guys found that the English furniture and decorative objects gig had become too much of a grind - they sold their huge downtown building and all their stock is going to be sold at Sotheby's. Meanwhile their wives had founded a jewellery emporium, which flourishes. Carrie and Mathew trade now in the rocks and precious metals world and Bob and Fred are sitting back. In my early days in Mallett I often sold to them; in my mid years I got to know the second generation; latterly I have come to respect and admire them as they carry the baton on into the future. I would love to be present as the hammer comes down on the past and the next phase springs phoenix-like from the last lot.

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But that is not all, Mallett are exhibiting at the International show. They dropped out last year and now return, but the main interest for the onlooker is the gossip about the takeover. If they have fabulous things and make eye-watering sales it would be wonderful but everyone will want to find out about their future. But I am compelled to stay in London, though the urge to fly is strong I cannot resist Frieze Masters, its contemporary forebear and the satellite PAD.

I visit PAD late, have a quick canter round and a brief discussion with Francois Laffanour of Galerie Downtown. He always puts on a spectacular show of 20th century design masters and this is no exception. We both vet Miami Basel Design and he is impressively charming at all times, as well as being on of the pre-eminent dealers in his field. He is content with business but not thrilled - the mood of the fair. Upstairs I am attending the launch dinner of the Art Book, a new magazine created and published by Oscar Humphries - my least reliable friend. The wine flows and Patrick Perrin is very supportive. The food is eccentric - backed potato and caviar as the main course. But it is delicious and clever - a bit like Oscar. The magazine is amazingly beautiful and heavy and we stagger out into the night flexing our biceps to bear it home.

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Frieze is visited by the world and it has its own particular identity being both international and very British. It is the secret fact of Frieze that it is a great place to start collecting. The works are mainly quite reasonably priced, under £10,000; and carefully curated by the management team, so you do get a good chance of buying a future star. Frieze masters is totally different - here the great works get a discrete and elegant display. There are Old Master pictures, Sculpture, Antiquities, a smattering of Tribal and Asian art and the occasional photograph - Hans Kraus, everyone's favourite early photography dealer, for example. There is no Jewellery and no furniture so it does not compare or compete with Masterpiece or even TEFAF. It is a serious show with serious works and it does not really have anything to do with Frieze down the road except for a few of the hot shot contemporary dealers who get the chance to show work which is older than 10 years.

I did get out of bed and in the end my bicycle served me well.