Week 43. 6000 miles apart.
Battersea Park in South London is approximately 6000 miles from The Convention Centre in Hong Kong. Cunningly, I have arranged to be in both places at once. There is a shocking counterpoint. At Fine Art Asia, the arts fair which begins next week in Hong Kong, Masterpiece is mounting a selling exhibition of European arts, taking a timeline of creativity from the very ancient to the near contemporary (a Cycladic white marble figure to bronzes by Henry Moore and Alberto and Diego Giacometti). The sweep of the many centuries are nodded to as we canter across 2500 years in 70 square metres, with 18 objects in 5 days. Each piece is a real master work, by a master artist.
I spent the week discussing prices with the various dealers. It is one thing to embrace the marked price as a sort of elegant concept. The dark reality is engaging with what they would actually accept as a final sale price, given aggression and determination from a buyer. The range goes from several million to low six figure sums, and in each case there is a scale; a happiness point, an acceptance, a grudging agreement and a 'get lost'!
In Battersea, Sungoose is showing over the same few days a squint at neo-classical design from mainly the 20th century, and nothing over £7,500. A slight contrast, to say the least. My assistant and Mrs Sungoose are running the stand. For all my professional life, I have been buying with a view that others will do the selling. At Mallett Antiques, the team was such that it was quite a rarity to even have a chance to sell something I had actually bought. Now, of course, things have changed beyond measure. It is down to me, and I won't be there! If Sungoose sells, well then it is, obviously, "hurrahs" all round, but if business does not happen, then do I blame them? Or blame myself? Or life, or the slack nature of the trade? I am mentally preparing.
I went in to the fair this morning to finish the stand and already there are the now-familiar barks of the dogs. Small, fluffy intensely pampered hounds sprinkle the fair like audible confetti. I sometimes wonder whether there is an inner connoisseur in each of these canine brains. I doubt it, but they give the appearance of examining both the new and the familiar with a turn of the head and a sort of tolerant patience which belies their numbskull natures. I am now familiar with my space. Francesca has painted it beautifully and Orlando, our calm, fair-haired porter, delivers everything efficiently and swiftly. Francesca has a great boyfriend who has helped paint and he also has a buddy helping him. I am six foot tall but so is Francesca, and her boyfriend Chris and his sidekick are much taller. I feel like a shrimp looking up at their chins. They are young and healthy, with a wonderful youthful glow to all three of them. The world is potential and adventure for them and it is quite inspiring and enthusing as we engage in the opening skirmish of this fair. The pieces they like, I find I like more. It is as if another generation has endorsed them.
On Friday night I went to dinner with an amazing couple, Marcus and Monica. They are furniture designers, but not in a traditional sense. They are nomads nominally based in New York. They look at all we see and use and redefine it using history and ergonomics, but filtered through a lens of technology and modern materials. I have rarely been around two people who I thought could generate a world of game-changing design. Marcus drills down into a subject so deeply that you think he would have got lost down the metaphorical rabbit hole. But he pops up, in an unanticipated spot and has ideas sparking out of his head like an effulgent Roman candle. We ate at The Punchbowl by Farm Street. This friendly, dark London pub had been owned by the film director Guy Ritchie for some time, but I think he recently sold it. The food is nothing and nor are the wines, but it has the strange aura of a crucible. You sit close, and conversation is encouraged. I am sure many an idea was germinated here and many a plot hatched. We left on that wonderful high inspired by nothing more than minds and ideas.
By contrast, but locally, the LAPADA fair opened this week. It is in a great location and they get a great crowd. However, despite the trees and the flush of impending autumn, the fair feels dark and claustrophobic. Too much black and too narrow corridors. There are treasures on display and many of my friends have stands, but the energy is not there. I spend an hour wandering and get lost a few times. It is very hard to pin down exactly where to go and how to manage the traffic. On Sunday the fair will end, and PAD will begin their build, to coincide with Frieze. It is amazing to think of these two very different fairs which share the same structure. The challenge for us all who sell history is to make it relevant and though the fair looks smart, it does not seem to have that contemporary engagement we all seek.
The thrill of the week was a jump over to Milan to meet a spectre. There is a glass worker, designer and dealer based there who for many years has been a silent participant in many dealers' lives. He is now in his seventies and was born into the apogee of 20th-century design in glass, represented by Carlo Mollino, Gio Ponti and Ettore Sotsass. Almost every piece of glass we look at today which isn't Scandinavian is either these guys' work, or a version of it. Everything! And my friend was part of it. Like the Woody Allen 'Zelig' character, he is ubiquitous but unnoticed. He has fashioned and manipulated glass for over 50 years, and his current output seems not the oeuvre of an old man but a youngster, an enfant terrible, trying to make his name. He looks at the books and new materials and comes up with truly insane ideas in coloured and polished glass. His workshop sits alongside one of the canals or 'navigli' which surprise visitors in Milan. It is sadly not the case, but the Milanese love to tell you that they were designed by Leonardo da Vinci for the Sforza family to facilitate the building of Milan cathedral. The truth is that Milan is blessed with a network of magnificent canals which are gradually being saved and restored. The story is better than the more complex and multi-century reality.
To reinforce the point, it is peculiarly inspiring to step along the canal and sit in a cafe drinking an exquisite, intense, minute espresso, flanked by contemporary glass and 15th-Century architecture.
I have commissioned a pair of square red glass mirrors which have ridged sides that reflect in disconcerting and baffling ways. They distort the images, twisting the light and confusing one's sense of the dimensions. I hope they will amaze and delight others as they do me.