The development of an antique show is not unlike a hamster giving birth to an elephant. Its a tight squeeze and no one knows what the identity will be once the show is born. Masterpiece, a relatively new fair going into its third year, has endeavored to become a place where great dealers must show. Maastricht, or TEFAF, has already reached that level although there were a number of years where the show strained to be noticed. Its remote location is beautiful and romantic, but it is not the easiest venue to reach.

Some shows such as the Olympia Fine Arts Fair in June have taken it into their heads to change their message. Instead of being an inclusive fair, it tried to become an exclusive event. After one year, that was abandoned and it has returned to the inclusive role. San Francisco, not really a player in the big arena of art and antiques fairs and yet with a great audience has been all inclusive and is, perhaps, a confusing show with great, good and average goods on offer. As long as that audience buys, it will be a worthwhile show to do.

The Winter Show in New York is an old lady with enormous pull but whose message has become less of a top quality fair in many genres to a top quality Americana show. The auction house influence, their top Americana sales of the year are in January during the Show, congregate many of America’s great collectors and the Winter Show has responded by increasing the presence of Americana dealers in the Show. The International Show in the fall somewhat counterbalances the Winter Show, but often struggles with the uncertainties of the October economy, a month that marks not a little infamy on Wall St.

It is the Spring Show NYC, the newest of this group of art and antique shows, that needs to establish its own identity. Begun by the Art and Antique Dealers League of America, it is in its second year and could establish a very strong bastion for top quality dealers that may find both Maastricht and Masterpiece too expensive to do. New York City also remains the greatest collector’s town in the world, a fact not lost on the dealers from London and Paris who continue to attempt to start their own shows at the Armory. The future of shows is not in doubt, it is just a question of which ones will prosper.

The interesting thing about the two hundred and fifty million dollars spent on the Cezanne the other day is not that two hundred fifty million is a huge sum, but that it only buys one little Cezanne. What could you buy for such a sum? You could probably buy every piece of English furniture on the market, just as the Chinese are trying to vacuum America of every Chinese work of art, but once you started buying, the market would open up and you might not get it all for that amount. Wishful thinking, I guess.

You could buy some buildings in New York City. But you could not buy the most expensive home in the world located in Mumbai, because it is valued at one billion. The second most expensive home is on the Cote d’Azur but that is half a billion, five hundred and six million to be exact. You could have bought all of Liz Taylor’s jewels and probably even the Hope diamond if you could get the Smithsonian to give it up. Again, wishful thinking.

If I were to buy a two hundred and fifty million dollar painting, I would want to do it on the sly. The publicity could only be negative once the word was out that I had spent that dough and it could only be deemed frivolous by my creditors. If I had no creditors, I might worry about security and I am dead certain that I would become a target for con men and swindlers. I mean if you are willing to blow that much on one painting, how much might you pay for the Brooklyn Bridge?

Furthermore, the reputation that art has is not good. It gets stolen, there are ownership issues, there are academics who at one point love what you own and the next minute treat the painting like a bad smell. And there is restoration and security that you would be required to think about. And then there is the artist himself. I mean, how long could that painting have taken him–an afternoon or two at the most? No one is worth that kind of money.

I have some advice for people that want to pay that much for a work of art. Stick to bricks and mortar. Buy the NJ Turnpike and live on the dividends. The Mackinac Bridge connecting the two Michigan peninsulas is another possibility with a great view to boot. Really, two hundred and fifty million could get you lots of things that you may not be able to get your arms around but which your accountant will certainly be able to get his head around.

Antique show organizers, as I mentioned in my most recent blog, are looking for ways to attract new people. The Pavilion of Art and Design (PAD), a French based show that is in both Paris and London, opened last November in the Seventh Regiment Armory. Allegedly, the show was not about antiques. In fact, there were antiques, but there were also new things. The concept, I believe, was to eliminate the word antique from the title of the show and replace it with design.

What is meant by the word, “design”? On its own, without a qualifier, the word, as a noun, has no meaning. Design has to be something. A good example of well thought out design is “Cabinet of Curiosities”, created by Thierry Despont in conjunction with Marlborough Gallery showing in Tribeca at 6 Harrison St. The exhibition is of art, sculpture, and antique furniture in a back drop of French boiserie. People who want “design” should see this installation. It is wonderful and shows the value of, dare I say it, good design.

I think the point is that words alone are not going to change the way people see things. Omitting the word “antique” and substituting the word “design” is just a shell game. “Cabinet of Curiosities” makes it very clear that it is how things are used, not what they are, that makes them work or not. This is what the public that comes to antique or design shows needs to understand more than anything else. And that is a problem that show and fair organizers have to overcome. Whoever thought that semantics would be more important than the items that we sell?