Grosvenor to Masterpiece

The Grosvenor House Art and Antiques Fair ended last year and the mantel of that fair has been picked up by the Masterpiece Fair which ran this year from June 23-30. Masterpiece was a success from almost every point of view. It garnered support from the trade and the buying customers. What more can you ask for?

Why do I feel hesitant in my praise? It was a beautiful fair, but it lacked soul and felt like it was about money. It was as if antique dealing had gone corporate while no one was looking. Is this the reality of the antiques business?

I think the model has been set by the auction houses who have endeavored to make their product, whatever it might be, more posh. They massage the clients and the clients spend with them. Their product becomes more about the pitch than the product. Has this always been the case?

I am not criticizing any of this. Masterpiece was masterminded by the English trade and they have made a posh event–it is quite extraordinary. The English trade works hard at being elegant and creating an aura of something the American dealers don’t seem to be able to muster. I would rejoin that the business is about antiques. From my perspective, that is what really counts.

It sounds from what I wrote yesterday that I don’t like the direction that the antiques business is taking as exemplified by Masterpiece and the auction houses. That is not true. Prices are getting dearer and both Masterpiece and the auction houses have recognized that you have to make the selling of high priced items an event. They have succeeded and they deserve credit for their success.

My fear is that the upward trajectory of prices necessarily turns off clientele, even people well enough off to afford great furniture. Not everyone wants a champagne preview and not every rich person interested in antiques wants to show off his wealth by being the highest bidder on an already expensive piece of furniture. Pastimes are for pleasure and a lot of the fooforaw around “events” is not to every person’s preference.

Without doubt, the organizers of Masterpiece deserve kudos for their efforts. They have successfully resurrected/created a new event that will draw collectors from around the world and that is no mean feat. Their success is offset, unfortunately, by LIFAF or what used to be the Olympia Fair, which appears to be headed downwards. Olympia is/was an important event in the antique furniture world and will, I hope, continue. As iffy as LIFAF seems, Masterpiece appears an assured and vibrant event. Long may it prosper.

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