The Blog

Life In The Arts Lane - Week 107 - Nearly at an End?

In London the sun is shining, the public walk in a daze and semi-naked young and old parade their interesting bodies around town. This is the summer; it is usually a brief interlude between heavy and depressing cold, black clouds and frequent rainy days. These few sweltering days have brought us to the brink of the end of the season. The summer fairs have come and gone, the decorative art and old master auction sales now beckon, and then it will all be over until September.

Before the art world drifts off to its various holidays around the world it is worth taking a moment to reflect and ponder. London still holds the arts centre stage for the months of June and most of July. It is true that in the world of contemporary art London play very much second fiddle to Basel and Venice, but for anything made more than 20 years ago London struts its stuff. The strawberries and cream tea season now begins with the small fair hosted by Brian and Anna Haughton by the Albert Hall. 'art antiques london' The title says it all; it is all plain and simple in lower case. This fair was spawned from the former Ceramics fair and still has loyal supporters. It opened on the 11th June, then as that closed on the 18th up came the 'Olympia International Fine art and Antiques Fair', where I set my stall up. Olympia closed on Sunday the 28th June by which time Masterpiece had been open for 5 days and had until Wednesday 31st to run. So you can see that for almost the whole of June there is an art fair to go to. Almost predictably, they were not all overrun with visitors and sales. The Haughton fair survives as a relic of the Ceramics fair and that seems to offer it a future but one suspects that it will be a diminishing cycle. Olympia has been creatively re-positioned in a new hall and with revived energy by its dynamic director Mary Clare, but it is still struggling to find its new purpose. The buying public did not come in sufficient numbers after the opening to deliver sufficient business for many at the fair. But crucially there was some business and the future does hold the potential for revival.

A flash of silver from Amir Mohteshemi at Masterpiece ( image writer's own)

The Masterpiece fair today is the only one that seems to have glamour. The bars and restaurants are full all day and each year more and more people come to visit. There are the much-feted 'loyal supporters' for both the other two but in my view each suffers from being born out of something else from another time of the trade. Masterpiece was conceived as a fair for our times. Despite the good visitor numbers at Masterpiece the trade is nonetheless hard for everyone and whilst a few might trumpet success it is not born out a solid sense of steady trade. The sales that are made at any of the fairs are lucky strikes.

Now we have a week ahead of us where we can observe the latest turn of the wheel for Mallett, bought by Dreweatt in November last year they are now selling 'without reserve' nearly 400 lots, clearing the shop and refocusing the business. Christies and Sothebys have their 'treasures' sales, dedicated to marketing the finest pieces from the world of decorative arts for the year. In addition the Old Master picture sales come under the hammer. This used to be their high point for the year too, but today they have all been shunted into the dog days of July. A stark reality has bitten home - in a world where a 'dec arts' sale which includes items from departments that no longer have specialist sales like silver, arms and armour, textiles, glass, even sculpture - a sale total above £10 million is a huge result. In comparison to the contemporary and modern sales, where this could be no more than the commission on one lot, this is almost chicken feed. This means that these sales take place when the so-called super rich have already gone on holiday.

Writers stand at Olympia - sans Visitors

We need to think where the trade is going and we need to plan what to do ourselves? The best thing seems to be to take action. For example 50 or so art dealers have got together to give London Art Week a big push. This event has been around for a few years but this year they have been corralled into having consistent opening hours and everyone is mounting a special exhibition. To overlap with the auctions makes sense and it will be interesting if the public take note and visit. I look in particular at the sculpture dealers Dino and Raphael Tomasso. They used to be the young guns in town, smart, brave and frantically busy. Dino's eagle eyes are busy darting around looking for every opportunity; Raph', with his extraordinary sixth sense for an under-catalogued or under-appreciated object, is equally always rushing around. Today they are highly respected members of the trade having beavered away for many a decade. Crucially they don't act like elder statesmen. Its true a few grey hairs have emerged and they are actually still young. This is the point - they are relentless in looking at ways to re-offer and re-present their wares. The sale rooms, the dealers, the fairs all need to keep looking for ways to make their offering appealing, desirable, and though it might seem trite to say it 'fun'. Masterpiece achieves all of this but it is not a forum for everyone - it is very expensive to exhibit at, for a start. Everyone in this incredibly exciting business needs to realise that enthusiasm needs to be passed on. Being busy, not resting on ever fading laurels is essential, every dealer needs a platform from which to perform that will entice and entrance the visitor. In this age of the internet there is no shortage of access to goods so the crux has to be to offer a fresh way of viewing and buying.