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NYC20

MICHAEL BRUNO ON THE NEW 1STDIBS FAIR

by Brook S. Mason
 
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Michael Bruno, the founder of 1stdibs, the successful design and antiques website, launches NYC20, his inaugural New York art and design fair, Apr. 12-15, 2012, in a tent in Lincoln Center. The show presents 36 dealers, including Donzella, Liz O'Brien, Lobel Modern and Trinity House, among others. Bruno launched 1stdibs a mere 11 years ago, and since then, he says, the site has  racked up $500 million in sales with 1,200 dealers in the U.S., Canada, London, Paris, Mexico City and now the Benelux countries. We talked at the company's huge offices -- soon to double in size to 20,000 square feet -- at Fifth Avenue and 20th Street.

With the fair world still turbulent, what was the inspiration for the inaugural NYC20 fair and why the Lincoln Center tent venue?

I wanted to do a fair that is a combination gallery, the 1stdibs space at 200 Lexington Avenue where our dealers share space, and our online site. Fairs are still wildly successful and the good ones take a few years to build momentum. Look at the first Art Basel Miami Beach and compare that to just several years later when it spawned a number of satellites. As for Lincoln Center, it is centrally located.

Is there a particular fair model you had in mind?

Look at the former Pavilion of Art and Design fair staged this past November in the Park Avenue Armory. But I didn't want to launch a fair at that level, where dealers can spend $80,000 in a heartbeat. For NYC20, the cost is far more viable, and we've sold all the space to 1stdibs dealers, and have a waiting list.

What audience do you expect to serve?

We pull together the best of fashion, art and design, so it's an exciting event that is sure to pull in the crowds.

In terms of taste, what is the biggest market shift you have seen in art and antiques?

People are still buying quality and not just quantity. Now we no longer need trends and more and more people understand the power of eclecticism. Look how taste today is far more than the industrial Belgian look. Before it was Hollywood Regency, which filtered down to West Elm. Now that style is overkill. People are no longer wed to a single style in this economy and they've moved far beyond and we see it from 1stdibs right down to yard sales.

As we have seen the antiques market softening, what examples do you find most in demand?

There's a return to the traditional. Look at Restoration Hardware and the influence of the TV show "Downton Abbey," set on a fictional estate in Yorkshire during the reign of King George V. Sideboards are back.

What do you personally collect in terms of art and how has it changed?

As to art, I still have work by my sister Sally Bruno, who is now getting her masters degree at Claremont in California.

Is there a particular period of antiques you collect?

I collect animal-themed objects, things that range from a giant black rooster in iron from Belgium to a lantern in the shape of a squirrel. As to furniture, I have work by Jean Michel Frank, Jacques Adnet and Karl Springer.

Which fairs do you attend regularly?

I just returned from my first time at TEFAF Maastricht. I always take in Art Basel Miami Beach and Brian and Anna Haughton's International Fine Art & Antique Dealers Show. Others include the Los Angeles and the San Francisco antiques fairs and occasionally the piers show. This is the first year I missed the Armory Show but I took in the Nashville Antiques and Garden Show, which was terrific.

Are you sourcing material differently now?

I still visit stores for a living and when I'm looking for something specific, I go online.

What projects do you have upcoming?

In two weeks, we're launching a section devoted to the European region of the Benelux countries, specifically focusing on Amsterdam, Antwerp and Brussels -- cities that have a lot of modern dealers.


BROOK S. MASON is U.S. correspondent for the Art Newspaper, and also writes for the Financial Times and other publications.