Featuring fresh takes and real-time analysis from HuffPost's signature lineup of contributors
Thomas Woodham Smith

GET UPDATES FROM Thomas Woodham Smith
 

Week One Life in the Arts Lane: Madrid, Holland, Brussels and London

Posted: 03/12/2012 10:12

Flying through fog to land at Heathrow from Madrid, I was dazzled by a moment's cloud break. The twinkling expanse of the city stretched out before me; the London eye, the Winter Wonderland, Hyde Park. I saw the city's landmarks and a tingle ran down my spine. I love Madrid, I adore it, but London is inexhaustible, majestic, sublime. I felt a rush I have always associated with coming home. I had been gone less than 24 hours.

My trip to Madrid was to visit Feriarte, the 36-year-old antiques fair, which I have been visiting since the '90s. It was patchy then, but there were works to buy and it was a lot of fun to visit. These days, though, there are just 80 dealers and a handful of auction houses, many selling indeterminate contemporary work. My dealer friends there are all in their 60's and 70's and nostalgia clogs the atmosphere. But business continues nonetheless; one dealer I know made a sale to the Prado, another is in mid transaction with a major sale to the Middle East and a friend who once dealt in Spanish old masters, is now buying Rolex watches and Balenciaga dresses. I too bought and sold some works.

Whilst in Madrid I rediscovered "El Puchero," a restaurant that sums up so much of what I admire of the city. The food is old fashioned but crafted with so much love and attention to detail that it comes across as very modern and almost pioneering. Artichoke hearts tossed in breadcrumbs with strings of jamon, a broth of clams and butter beans which balances salt and stock perfectly and croquettes of bacalao that were crunchy, fluffy and soft with not too much potato. Madrid may be down but it certainly is not out.

The situation in Spain made an interesting counterpoint to my travels last week, when I drove in my beaten up silver soft top Saab to Belgium to visit the Namur Fair. Travelling via the Euro tunnel with my colleagues Justin and Francesca, we had an early start. Arriving painlessly, we then roamed the aisles at Namur Fair and found a remarkable number of treasures. After our buoyant day we had supper back in the 70's; dining on meat fondue and ghastly sour red wine.

Driving to Holland the next day we visited long-time dealers Bill and Cornelia, who are ensconced in a Dutch retirement village with fabulous canal views. Their apartment teams with carefully chosen things and everything they buy, they live with and cherish. They have a partner's desk in the sitting room at which they cogitate; there are books, a magnifying glass and no television. Their time is spent lovingly examining and researching their collection. In the sitting room almost nothing is for sale, in the spare bedroom things are relegated and everything is for sale, and then in the rejects cupboard everything is for sale and very low priced. They sell in order to buy, not to live.

Buying over we headed to Brussels and dined at "Vismet". It's a robust Belgian fish eatery, with no frills but outstanding fish. Justin ordered a bone dry Alsace wine and we shared all our dishes, no one wanting to be left out of a treat. The stand out, were the Zeeland oysters, not too big, not too soft, and wonderfully salty. A synopsis of the sea.

After touching down from my travels I've had a busy week as Creative Director for Masterpiece London. Masterpiece offers dealers an exceptionally high-quality fair for exhibitors to market their wares, with an underlying vision that balances innovation and tradition. On any given day I will meet some of the most memorable characters in the antiques, art and design world. The business of dealing invites the ultimate expression of putting your money where your mouth is and the dealers enjoy keeping me on my toes.

Each dealer at Masterpiece is passionate about their subject, and this week I have had the privilege to discuss possibilities around the celebration of the tri centenary next year of the legend of English clock making Thomas Tompion. Not to mention a unique collection of Meissen figures that will be brought to the fair. And every now and then, there are some very creative ideas that land on my desk, such as an art sushi performance! The job is a mixture of filtering and searching. My challenge is to find the highest quality of newness, in all material, design and expertise. Masterpiece is not after new for the sake of new and it requires a good eye to see the wood for the trees.

 

Follow Thomas Woodham Smith on Twitter: www.twitter.com/twoodhamsmith

FOLLOW UK CULTURE