When Florida fair organizer David Lester commandeered the leadership of London’s Summer Olympia Art and Antiques Fair a year ago, insiders pondered the merits of such a takeover. With the grand dame of traditional antiques shows, the Grosvenor House Art & Antiques Fair, literally expiring on its 75th anniversary last June, the playing field changed considerably. In its place is a flurry of fairs. Brits Anna and Brian Haughton set up their inaugural Art Antiques London, which is slated to open this week, while a dealer-led consortium is launching Masterpiece 2010 London, which debuts June 24, 2010. Can the market support three shows in a single month, or do too many players lead to cannibalization?
Rave reviews have already greeted the Lester’s newly christened London International Fine Art Fair (LIFAF), June 4-13, 2010, which is being held in Olympia’s tried and true venue, the splendidly repainted Victorian glass and iron Grand Hall. Lester has ramped up the ancillary features and events, which at most fairs are a snore. To woo the younger collector, he has brought on an exhibition of British paintings collected by classic rocker Bryan Ferry (Gwen John, William Nicholson and the like) along with a slew of lectures and tours. Secondly, despite the fierce competition for dealers, Lester roped in 164 participants; only six weeks ago he had barely filled the upper tier.
The first few days drew A-listers like Mick Jagger, who has just taken a Georgian house on swish Cheyne Walk in London’s Chelsea, plus decorators Nicky Haslam and Elle Cullman, film stars Rupert Everett and Julie Christie, the flashy Ivana Trump and others. More importantly, Lester roped in major contemporary art collectors who also favor serious antiques, such as Lord Jacob Rothschild and Galen Weston and his wife, who own Selfridges department store here and created the stylish residential community in Windsor, Fla.
Overall, the fair looks far smarter with Lester orchestrating the entire design. Stand walls are a discreet ecru or charcoal gray, with white trim and soft beige carpeting. Gone are the tarted-up two-story stands of years past, which were somehow more about trimmings than the meat, meaning the actual objects. Now aisles are wider -- really boulevard-like -- and the layout is sharper, effortlessly drawing clients straight back through the fair.
For some dealers, such changes have sparked sales. For example, Robilant & Voena, a London dealer and a new participant in the event, sold a monumental black-and-white photo of hurricane-tossed surf by New York artist Clifford Ross within hours of the opening, while two Julian Schnabel paintings on maps from 2008 were on reserve. The Ross was tagged at $65,000 and the Schnabel’s each bore the same price. Also attracting interest were fashionista David LaChapelle’s edgy photos.
Then at London’s Gordon Watson Ltd., an American buyer bagged a total of 12 design furnishings dating mostly from the 1950s and ‘60s. Also snapped up were 1960s Swedish Orrefors glass vases and a 1950s lacquered wood bureau and writing desk by Paolo Buffa. "The reason business is great is simple," says Watson. "This fair doesn’t conflict with Basel and that’s our client base."
Another reason could be the accessible price points for 1950s and ‘60s furnishings. Particularly appealing is a Jere wall hanging of mirrored discs -- like coins spilling from Fortune’s horn -- for only £8,000. Curtis Jere, an American, turned them out in droves and many ended up as store displays in countless shopping centers. Today, American retailer Jonathan Adler sells copies.
Across the aisle, the London gallery Osborne Samuel red-dotted a Lynn Chadwick (1914-2003) bronze seated figure Maquette III High Wind, 1980, for £60,000. Chadwick fans can be found in throughout Britain and in Florida. Here, he’s their own iconic Modern sculptor, and down on the Gold Coast his work is deemed perfect for the garden or patio. Now his prices are climbing up to those of Henry Moore. On offer is Chadwick’s Teddy Boy and Girl, 1955, practically life-sized figures in bronze for £600,000.
Then De Parma, also of London, rang up a riveting Manuel Marin mobile. The Spanish Marin (1942-1007) worked under both Moore and Alexander Calder and that mentorship shows. On view is a large Calder-like work for a mere fraction of the cost of the American sculptor’s creations. It’s only £15,000. Marin’s sculpture can be found all over Spain, even in public spots like roundabouts. His work just occasionally comes up at Bonham’s lower tier auctions, where it frequently fails to sell.
Other early sales were spotted at Vanderven & Vanderven Oriental Art, which will also take part in the Masterpiece fair. Sold were a Tang terracotta prancing horse to a Brit and a 19th-century Japanese red lacquer box to an American. "Those clients who pulled out of the stock market prefer to put their capital in Chinese taste ceramics," says Floris Vanderven. He defines Chinese taste as Imperial wares and just about anything with a dragon. With the Chinese art market growing by five percent last year while both the European and American market plummeted a staggering 30 percent, those clients will prove remarkably prescient.
Then Hatchwell Antiques of the Kings Road is touting the ultimate plane model. It’s a five-foot-high Lockheed star fighter from 1954 in polished aluminum and mahogany. Allan Hatchwell is doing a brisk business in mid-century naval binoculars -- and in converting plane parts into furnishings. Apparently the hedge fund crowd zeros in on such material. The prices are surprisingly modest. A 727-engine cowling fitted with a mirror some 18 inches deep is well under £10,000.
Arms and armor were moving at Peter Finer. "A brand new Australian client took a German wheel lock pistol," says Redmond Finer. Also a temptation was a German helmet, 1580, made of only three pieces of iron, the helmet was both sleek and monumental. Though designed for tournaments on foot, which must have been horrific, the helmet is really more sculpture and priced at £75,000.
Grosvenor House regular Peter Petrou is featuring his usual mélange of design, including Raymond Summers chairs, Studio Job 2006 marquetry cabinets and Claude Lalanne bronze garden seating; antiquities such as Roman marble busts and George III Corinthian column candlesticks. This London dealer already racked up sales to two institutions and they included a Spanish colonial 1680 tortoise and mother of pearl cabinet with a small arched panel painting of St. Anthony of Padua for well over £50,000 to an American museum. It had the kind of provenance curators swoon over, as the multi-drawer cabinet came from the estate of pianist Jose Iturbi. Then a 1480 Islamic wooden pendant light went to a British museum.
Didier Antiques, which shows at Sandy Smith’s Modernism fair in New York, has cases of jewelry by top artists, including Picasso, Wifredo Lam, Man Ray and Edward Burne-Jones. With more clients taking on post-war and contemporary art, this jewelry is a natural next step. Amy Cappellazzo at Christie’s sports Calder necklaces to accompany her Marc Jacobs frocks and collectors follow her taste. Now the prices for such wearable art are skyrocketing.
Case in point are Man Ray 1970 earrings, spirals of slender sheets of 18 karat rose gold for £75,000 which come with a certificate signed by the artist. Back in the early ‘70s, a pair from an edition of 12 was priced at $2,500. Driving the new price may be the fact that the jeweler never completed the edition. Plus, French film star Catherine Deneuve even has a pair. "Picasso, Pomodoro and Man Ray are the most highly sought," says Didier Haspeslagh.
Already Lester’s LIFAF is winning converts. Surprisingly, Francis Norton of the discriminating New Bond Street jeweler S. J. Phillips, who does the Maastricht TEFAF but always nixed Olympia, is leaning towards LIFAF. "I just might do the Lester fair," says Norton.
BROOK S. MASON is U.S. correspondent for the Art Newspaper, and also writes for the Financial Times and other publications.