January 27, 2010 | On the heels of its seventy-fifth anniversary last June, the Grosvenor House Art and Antiques Fair announced that it would close. Only time will tell how its absence will shift the balance of European fairs in 2010. In the meantime, Europe's organizers unveil their plans for the coming year.
Held at the same time as the Winter Antiques Show in New York, the Brussels Antiques and Fine Arts Fair (BRAFA) is too often overlooked by Americans. Now in its fifty-fifth year, BRAFA features 130 top-tier dealers with 60 percent of them coming from Belgium. Among the rest are exhibitors from Hungary, Portugal, and Spain who are not always seen in London or Paris, as well as Hicham Aboutaam of Phoenix Ancient Art, the sole American dealer there in 2010. Recently, the show has also featured dealers from Canada, China, and Russia. According to Aboutaam, the growing internationalism of attendees and exhibitors are good indicators of the fair's significance.
BRAFA-Brussels Antiques and Fine Arts Fair · Through January 31 · www.brafa.be
The European Fine Art Fair (TEFAF), Maastricht, Netherlands, floats majestically above all others. An encyclopedic range of objects and art as well as impeccable standards have enabled this fair to become preeminent in just a few decades. TEFAF continues to expand. In 2010 a record 260 exhibitors will participate.
New York-based interior designer Frank de Biasi finds what he describes as the fair's "out of the way" location advantageous. "You have to be serious to go there," he says, "because it lacks the distractions of Paris." Nicolas Norton of S. J. Phillips in London, a longtime exhibitor, points out, however, that TEFAF has become a tourist attraction of its own, "with busloads of people coming who have no intention of buying." Most business, he contends, takes place in the first twenty-four to forty-eight hours. Nevertheless, he continues to find it worth his while to exhibit.
London silver dealer Lewis Smith of Koopman Rare Art, who has participated in the fair since the early 1980s, describes it as "fantastic" and lauds its willingness to introduce new collecting areas. Last year, for example, there was a twentieth-century design and applied arts section for the first time, and in 2010 there will be a new section devoted to works on paper.
TEFAF-The European Fine Art Fair, Maastricht · March 12-21 · www.tefaf.com
Grosvenor House fallout is naturally most intense in London. Even TEFAF exhibitors such as Nicolas Norton concur that "there ought to be a serious fair of consequence in London." He is confident that one will emerge that will be better and stronger than Grosvenor House. Opinion is divided about which of three proposed contenders it will be.
Days before Grosvenor House announced its demise, David and Lee Ann Lester of International Fine Art Expositions, known for their fairs in Palm Beach and Miami, purchased a 50 percent share of the summer Olympia fair and took over the show's management. David Lester points out that Olympia, with thirty-seven years of history, is now the oldest fair in London with the city's largest exhibition space—the soaring Olympia Exhibition Hall of 1892, now newly renovated.
For some observers and participants, Olympia's heyday was in its early years before it decided to go upscale. Nicolas Norton speaks for many when he observes that "now, it can't decide what it is." Koopman's Smith, a sometime exhibitor, concurs, adding that the effort to go upscale "did a lot of harm to the lower end of the business."
Whatever Olympia's history, there are people who seem excited by its future and by the Lesters' plans to remake the fair, which they have renamed the London International Fine Art Fair at Olympia. David Lester says his marketing priorities are, "Russians, Indians, the Chinese, Americans, Italians, Middle Eastern immigrants, and lastly the Brits." If this seems a little harsh, he suggests that the new generation of established English dealers—people such as Julian Bly, sixth generation at Solomon Bly Antique Furniture, with very different approaches to the business from that of their forebears—have embraced his vision. He also points out that as of November sixteen former Grosvenor House dealers had already signed on.
The goal of the Lesters is for the 2010 fair to include "30 percent new exhibitors of high international standing," and to extend the scope of what is exhibited by including modern and contemporary art. To that end, in 2011 he will push the fair's date to late June, in tandem with London's big modern and contemporary auctions and out of direct competition with Art Basel.
Dealers will pay higher fees and an increased advertising and promotion levy, in return for which the Lesters promise an improved layout and a major multimedia marketing campaign aimed at bringing collectors through the door.
London International Fine Art Fair at Olympia, London · June 4-13 · www.lifaf.com
The Haughtons' new fair
Brian and Anna Haughton of Haughton International Fairs, best known in the United States as the organizers of New York's International Fine Art and Antique Dealers Show, have proposed a new London fair in June called Art Antiques London. To be held in a marquee opposite the Royal Albert Hall in Kensington Gardens, this event will subsume the International Ceramics Fair and Seminar, which the Haughtons founded in 1982, while including many other collecting areas.
Anna Haughton explains that she and her husband intend to create a "nice but not ginormous sized fair of sixty to seventy dealers," with the stipulation that all members of this select group show works of impeccable quality. Their confirmed roster includes dealers from Germany, France, and Japan, in addition to a number of Grosvenor House veterans such as Gothic revival and arts and crafts specialist Martin Levy of H. Blairman and Sons; Pre-Raphaelite painting specialist Rupert Maas; British painting, drawing, and watercolor expert Lowell Libson; and clock dealer Raffety and Walwyn—all of whom have shown at other Haughton fairs.
Art Antiques London · June 9-16 · www.haughton.com
Grosvenor House revisited
A third contender to inherit the mantle of Grosvenor House has been proposed by a group of the fair's former organizers, led by English furniture specialist Simon Phillips, director of Ronald Phillips and former chairman of the Grosvenor House Fair executive committee. The other partners are Harry Apter, a director of Apter-Fredericks; Robert Procop, president and CEO of Asprey; Harry van der Hoorn of Stabilo; and Thomas Woodham Smith, managing director of Mallett. Nicola Winwood, formerly assistant director of the Grosvenor House Fair, will manage the event. Confirmed dealers include, A La Vieille Russie, MacConnal-Mason, Marchant, S. J. Phillips, Peter Finer, and Tomasso Brothers.
Although the organizers carry the imprimatur of the old show, they compare their proposed venture, called Masterpiece, to the Great Exhibition of 1851 and intend to include classic cars, fine wine, and contemporary design in addition to art and antiques.
The project hinges on planning permission to erect a temporary structure on the site of the historic Chelsea Barracks, which was saved last June by Charles, Prince of Wales. Until the decision, due in January, is rendered, many dealers remain on the fence about where they will exhibit.
Masterpiece, London · June 24-29 · www.masterpiecefair.com
Koopman Rare Art
Lewis Smith of Koopman Rare Art plans to sit out the 2010 London fair season entirely and to focus instead on drawing people to his gallery with a major loan exhibition of English neoclassical silver from public and private collections. The exhibition will feature silver objects and drawings by masters such as Sir William Chambers, James Wyatt, and James "Athenian" Stuart, with a special emphasis on Robert Adam.
The exhibition will be accompanied by lectures and a catalogue by curator Christopher Hartop, with a foreword by Tim Knox, director of Sir John Soane's Museum. Proceeds from catalogue sales will be donated toward completing the Soane Museum's ongoing project of cataloguing its nine thousand Robert and James Adam drawings online.
A separate gallery will display related objects that are for sale.
The Classical Ideal: English Silver 1760-1840 · Koopman Rare Art, London · June 3-25 · www.koopmanrareart.com
TEFAF may be the world's most important fair, but the Biennale des Antiquaires in Paris is still the most glamorous. Although objects and art come from around the world, the aesthetic and the organization of the fair, which is under the direction of the Syndicat National des Antiquaires, are unapologetically French.
Hervé Aaron, director of Galerie Didier Aaron and the new president of the Syndicat, will head this coming September's Biennale, the twenty-fifth, for the first time. Although detailed plans have yet to be announced, observers report seeing no signs of significant changes from previous years.
XXVe Biennale des Antiquaires · Grand Palais, Paris · September 15-23 · www.bda.eu
The Milan International Antiques and Modern Art Fair has been steadily gaining in stature in recent years, even if it has not quite reached that of the Biennale Internazionale dell'Antiquariato di Firenze (next scheduled for autumn 2011). Smith of Koopman's describes both fairs as "chic and laid-back," and finds this relaxed atmosphere conducive to business. (The Milan fair is so laid-back, in fact, that organizers have not yet specified specific dates in the month of November.)
MINT-Milan International Antiques and Modern Art Fair · November 2010 · www.mintexhibition.it
Images from above:
Cup with black figures attributed to the Tleson Painter, Greek, 550-525 bc. Phoenix Ancient Art, New York and Geneva. Casket, Indo-Portuguese, seventeenth century. Kunstkammer Georg Laue, Munich. View of the Olympia International Art and Antiques Fair, Olympia Exhibition Centre, London, 2009. View of the proposed entrance to Art Antiques London. Perfume burner marked by Andrew Fogelberg and Stephen Gilbert (working together 1781-1795), London, 1785-1786. Private collection.