November 1st, 2013 by admin
I had an interesting conversation with Mario Buatta, who recently published a book on his lifetime of designing interiors for clients who could afford the best and looked to a person who understood what that meant. We reminisced about the skills today’s clients require from their interior designer, and what was offered by those of a prior generation. Unfortunately, we will never see those individuals who understood the job requirements of teaching a client what they were going to purchase and how its value was measured in what is was and how it added aesthetic qualities to enhance a living space.
Mario Buatta is a living relic (sorry Mario for being so crude), who extrudes skills that his pictorial of work can only scratches the surface. He knows that the Louis XV style is no substitute for Louis XVI. He knows his periods and styles, and doesn’t just rely on Mid-20th Century modern + color as the only scope of decorating. Unfortunately, today’s decorator also has a different type of client that cares little about what it is that they are buying through an interior decorator, but is more apt to use that individual as a stylist for the their home. Like preparing for a photo shoot, a store window, or a TV set, the interior is meant to portray an elite sense of minimalism, and not a sophisticated knowledge of times and places.
With an abundance of technology and limited time, the world as we know it does not require or even want to take the opportunity to learn, touch, and appreciate what can be an intimate part of our lives. The interiors shown in many publications reveal a simplicity bordering on being airless, dry, and without a soul. Oddly, when these shelter magazines do show an interior chock full of personality and eclectic period pieces the casual contemporary reader is left speechless from the visual overload. Too bad there so few designers to explain what is going on.
When I started out in this business, I was blessed with the opportunity to grasp a job that would offer a lifetime of learning. As a young “shlepper”, I moved, waxed, cleaned, and wrapped items in the store, but I relished the opportunity to walk around with a respected interior designer, as he explained what each item was and why it was important for the client to purchase it for their home. I cut my teeth in this industry by learning from professionals who knew what they were buying and how it was to be properly used in the decorative scheme of an interior. There was no cookie cutter Mid-Century Modern formula.
The transformation of the client/decorator relationship has been irreparably changed to one of expedience to get the job done and cheaply, ASAP. The attention to detail is substituted by either the view from the windows or the trophy art on the (few) walls. With educational institutions giving lip service and a fleeting acknowledgement to antique periods and style, less of today’s designers are prepared to teach their clients anything short of the prestige and cache of having done the job and getting it published. A client deserves more but demand less.
The 2013 Haughton 25th Anniversary International Fine Art and Antique Dealer Show, My Review of the Show and how it has affected the Industry
October 25th, 2013 by admin
I can safely say that I have attended many Fine and Decorative Arts fairs and events where you get to see a lot of good, great, and outstanding items. My clarion call is, “One man’s treasure is another man’s trash.” However, I must premise this review by stating that I am a Decorative Arts guy and I love anything that extrudes some human creative skill. Music, art, theater, even a great real estate deal or speculative investment product is all the byproduct of creative thinking.
I digressed—a show is all about the goods and this one had contemporary works challenging and dominating classical antiques. Maybe I should quickly relieve myself of my standard complaint that most dealers absurdly conceal pricing, while others just write a short description that includes measurements, but no price. PLEASE show a price (I assume it is negotiable anyway). I also noticed that presentation among the various booths was very inconsistent. I found that, short of some dealers using a solid color pattern on the walls, only the Phoenix Ancient Art booth used an eye-catching creative window display design. Lack of presentation is something that kills most of the period stuff. The booths filled with period English (but VERY LITTLE French) furniture haven’t changed their display presentation since the first Haughton show. It is a stark contrast to even the casual browser, as the dealers showing art forms of the 20th and 21st Century dominates this event.
And then there is vetting, does it really work? Show me how someone can vet the booth of a dealer showing work of a contemporary furniture designer? But guess what, this show continues to evolve with a bigger and better dynamic, and vetting is not the reason to visit. The show and auction formats are joined at the hip; they both create an instant bazaar that lasts less than a week. Just as auctioneers think that they are or are not telling you what they’re selling, so useless is the idea of vetting. Keep it if you must, but it is only a challenge to a dealer’s integrity.
When this show first began, the Haughton dared to challenge the “venerable” Winter Antiques Show, which was the only superior show of its kind in New York City. It had been established several decades before and had become the premiere public social event in the City. But the new Haughton Show’s challenge was to be less restrictive with the exhibited periods and styles of both Decorative and Fine arts. In New York City today, the show has evolved to be one that challenges the modern styles shown at The Salon: Art & Design Fair opening in two weeks; this show spreads the wealth.
If you are planning to decorate your entire house at a show like this, then forget about it, unless you take the whole booth at Maison Gerard for consideration as your living room. Who could not just move in (or take it to a new home)? Creative new pieces being made by contemporary designer Achille Salvagni dominate the space that mimics the quality and design of the last half of the 20th Century. Maison Gerard also provided items for other booths in need of the punch of a decorative art item or two.
At this show, contemporary artists were displayed as though they had always been there. You could observe contemporary trends in the dense black patina of the bronze sculptures of artist Xie Aige at the Michael Goedhuis booth or the incredible crystal bonsai plants by Simone Crestavi, scattered on a Sorney dining table in Bernd Goeckler’s space. It was a pleasant diversion away from the real nature of the merchandise you come to expect and see at a show like this. It was booths like H.M. Luther’s that demonstrated they were not afraid to mix it up and display multiple styles and periods together.
However, the trick to this show and shows of this kind is the unfortunate absence of information and disclosure; information comes only from a serious conversation. The exclusivity of the items is even more apparent when you realize that they are not even posted on the Internet. Dealers hide their merchandise from view for shows like this, although some pieces seem to have been given a second go around. But the condition of the stand-alone brick and mortar dealer has been, and will continue to be, the challenge to survive.
The show option, with its carnival atmosphere of load in, load out, and onto the next town, will always have an allure, as will auctions with their hype and dubious methods. How they compete with the wunderkind of the Internet will be the ultimate test. It is imperative that we consider our future customers and how to engage them to learn and appreciate our things. It is the principal challenge to the whole industry, no matter the format.
August 10th, 2013 by admin
I guess if you live long enough you can discover anything is possible. Thank you Goldman Sachs and friends; you taught us how to manipulate the price of aluminum upward with the technique of storing and moving inventory. Is the storage and movement of decorative and fine arts really a disadvantage? Perhaps you can skim a nice percentage, like a built in commission.
Without physical control, it would be hard to classify anyone in this industry as a dealer. It is the function of a dealer to trade with inventory and bet that you can buy low or beat up a consignor’s share, but be able to sell it. For anyone in this industry who is still around to enjoy it, a sale is a welcomed event. They are far fewer, more selective, and require attention to detail regarding shipping, taxes, import/exportation, form of payment, etc.
A large, centrally located storage facility could service many needs of many dealers. We see this form of dealer grouping in local antique centers. There is usually a manager who runs the facility and dealers tend to assist each other. However, that is being challenged by online super malls like eBay and 1stdibs. Yes, it is nice just to rummage through, but we live in an “arm chair” society. Technology now rules the day, but there is a visceral effect with actually be able to physically find, buy, and taking home any form of decorative and fine arts.
Aside from the one hit wonder show extravaganza of an auction, the only time you get significant attendance at a dealer venue would be an elegant Park Ave. style show, but how about Brimfield too? It happens were the merchandise is in large quantities, and the choices are broad. What clearly defines the most success is not having the best, the most, or whatever, but how are sales? The common denominators are: is it easy, predicable, interesting, and a place where selling is conducive and happens.
Can a single dealer or consortium of dealers ever coalesce around a shared attempt to acquire and store for sale through consignment or purchase, a massive amount of inventory? It could be a single location or many regional locations. Goldman and their buddy JP Morgan Chase made warehousing of a commodity, a successful enterprise. Of course there must have been some price manipulation or these big guys would not be in it; but with a commodity, pricing is fairly consistent. Not so with the decorative and fine arts. Yes, there are price results out there, but they are mostly flawed auction results that include an inflated buyer’s premiums. It is a market of thinly traded items, with subtle differences between each.
Yet, there should be considerable saving of overhead and operational inventory maintenance with economies of scale. There is a reason Amazon’s large operation creates efficiency. Shipping, storage, and assorted logistical needs are a byproduct of how our industry must operate. Like many industries, survival can depend on consolidation to achieve these ends.
August 4th, 2013 by admin
There are immeasurable challenges with the concept and creation of a representative organization that would serve a genuine purpose and function for decorative and fine arts dealers. Dialogue is one thing but a membership with an awareness of its needs has to have leadership and direction. A meaningful organization must have a membership that can coalesce around issues that need to be clear, identifiable, and attainable goals.
Simple to say, but membership in this industry is pretty hard to quantify and standardize. Perhaps a starting point would be to at least have a state issued resale certificate and or a designation as some sort of second hand dealer. I think that a minimum requirement be the active intent to trade the owned or consigned inventory of art, antiques, and collectibles. This might create an issue with so called consultants, but their issues are not as complex and differ substantially to a stocking dealer. Auctions, well, unless they clean up their act, they should be exposed.
Having a membership is one thing but creating an effective representative organization really requires much more, starting with money. Let’s face it, with a K Street government lobbyist you get what you pay for. To be perfectly frank, I have no idea how these successful lobbyists work or what their methods may entail. After reading David Stockman’s book The Great Deformation, I am certain that not having representation will get you nothing. But dealers in my industry have a big problem seeing beyond the survival of their own business. This is not a job or should it be a job of membership. It must have outside professionals guided by a Board.
Did I just say a Board? Who, how, why, what would a Board be charged with? Now we have the real issues of our future. A Board must have a vision and the back of its membership; it also needs the right paid professional to articulate and engage in a plan to improve the public standing of the industry. I wish I had a template as to how you go about creating such an organization, but there are certainly enough successful ones out there to study.
This blog may be an exercise in what ifs, but I know I can’t do it alone, nor should I. I’m running my own business alone, and that’s hard enough (a writing a blog is on overtime). I wish I had the time to divert to the creation of an independent representative industry organization, and be self funded for the benefit of all; what a noble task! But who knows, maybe there are others out there that are like minded, and want to pursue the aspiration. Ideas are cheap however goals should be attainable only with the right effort by those who want them bad enough.
July 19th, 2013 by admin
I lived in New York City in the summer of 1969, as a college student between my freshman and sophomore year; it was also the first of three summers that I would be working at Newel, the firm my grandfather founded in 1939. I had worked as a lifeguard the summer before in the suburbs of Philadelphia, where I grew up, but this would be a summer like no other.
Of course there was Woodstock and those incredible evening concerts in Central Park, which previewed many of those who performed at that great event. Concerts at the Fillmore East were experiences of iconic performers and Greenwich Village was filled with a perpetual smell of incense. However, working full time at Newel was something that was a means to an end. My grandparents paid me with a salary and use of their apartment while they were off to Europe for a full fledged summer of buying and vacation via the luxury of an ocean liner.
Newel was well established with its rental business to Broadway, window display, movies, TV productions, and commercial photographers, along with a select coterie of interior designers shopping our various warehouses filled with massive amounts of inventory. That summer, I was moving, cleaning, wrapping, and learning about antiques, as well as understanding the demand to be a productive worker. My focus on doing my job prevented me from thinking about taking a couple of days off to meet my college buddies at Woodstock.
But living in New York would offer more than a job, or being in the center of a social revolution. It was also a time when I wanted to prepare myself for the fall, and moving up from the freshman soccer team at Lehigh to the varsity. We had an undefeated freshman team and our coach, Tom Fleck, was now the varsity coach (at that time freshman couldn’t play varsity) and I needed to step up my game. Central Park would become my training ground.
Back then, there were soccer field throughout the Park and it was a gathering place for young foreigners who grew up playing the game. I would generally do running in the Park just to keep in shape, but those pickup games were always going on. While I might be the only one who spoke English, they got the message that I wanted to play too. Those summer evenings after work and weekends hanging around the fields would more than make up for any organized practice. This was where I could play in international competition and would be called by my teammates “American, American”. As the only one on those fields who was born in this country, it was an honor to be treated as an equal and share the passion and pleasure of playing a team game that only required skills and mutual respect.
While I might have been an adequate college soccer player, I was not professional material. I was also playing lacrosse in the spring but that also presented limited opportunities for my skill set. Realizing that my academic progress was suffering because of the time needed to commit to two sports, the clear choice became obvious for my junior year. However, that summer also gave me my first opportunity to get my hands dirty by moving antiques and hanging chandeliers. My early training in this business had begun and it is still continuing.
May 11th, 2013 by admin
There was a time when we (and may other fine dealers) would supply interior designers with phenomenal loads of great antiques and decorative furnishing for display at the Kips Bay Designer Show House. It was a showcase where interiors were created to inspire one to the finest in taste, style, and quality. None of those last 3 adjectives describes how I would classify this week’s opening of this esteemed event.
It is not to say that there isn’t talent, but if something wasn’t of the contemporary nature or “faux” edgy, it would not have a place in this Show. Not only were there barely any items over 100 years old, you could probably count on your hand the number that were even 50 years old. Mid-Century was somehow in short supply, and items of outstanding quality, non-existent. What does this say about the state of decorating with antiques and the pursuit of living with the finest? It does say if you have bold colors or just plain white you can decorate on a dime. Cheap is now chic.
The need for furnishing at all is now in question. I bring this point up as I saw a 4 page (a 2 double page pull out) advertisement in the New York Times Magazine). It showed the expanse of looking through the all glass windows of luxury apartment with a man (husband) standing on a terrace on the 1st page and a woman (his wife) in the dining area on the last (4th page). Almost no furniture, accessories, even walls are seen in the panorama of the apartment. Oh, but there was one essential piece, the white on white contemporary art on wall. The decoration is on the outside of the apartment; the lights and views of New York City are meant to be more important than the actual living environment. If this is the future of interior design, I have a lot of old firewood sitting in my inventory.
That actually may be the case. This relentless trend has not abated but is now is a total freefall. Have a conversation with anyone and with the rare exception (especially anyone now under 50) they will not be embracing period (any period) pieces. According to the confirmation of this trend as exhibited at Kips Bay, old is not relevant to today’s world. Having the latest gadget or trophy asset means more than aspiring to have knowledge of quality, craftsmanship, and historical value.
The pity of it all is that antiques and decorative arts of all styles and periods have failed in Marketing 101. Cache is not associated with a Chippendale chair as much as a Jackson Pollack painting. The image of tired, functionally difficult to live with furniture is in full retreat to simplicity of form and color. Perhaps antiques and the decorative arts need a makeover however it’s not going to come from the interior design trade; most of them have already left the building.
April 16th, 2013 by admin
For a dealer, the consignment option has equal if not more value than to an auctioneer. Consigned inventory is controlled inventory, and how you sell it depends upon a liquidation time frame. There are many options that dealers could offer, like being a conduit for consignors to the technology of 1st Dibs while also offering professional vetting and service. It’s also probably a lot cheaper than doing the show circuit too.
I must confess that I have been “there and back again” over the history of technology and the Internet, as the web has been littered with good attempts to be the eBay of better quality decorative and fine arts. I still have my business plan (from back in the day) to implement my creation, for dealers only, of the “Decorative And Fine Arts Market Exchange” (DAFAME). Sounds noble enough! However, the best thing about 1st Dibs is it allows a dealer to be recognized as a professional in this industry.
The successful creation of some standard beyond any number of exclusive dealer associations is quite welcome. The standard for membership on any level in this industry is riddled with inconsistencies and just plain blather. At least eBay has a standard of measures for dealer professionalism. But the exciting aspect of this prospect is coming from 1st Dibs. Its foundation is having the best dealers affiliated to it, as the merchandise will follow. And, buyers have never experienced anything like this format; dealers can provide all the services, just like the (duopoly) auctioneers but without the deception, fraud, conflicts of interest….
A professional member of 1st Dibs is in a very fortunate place because the potential to suck consignments from auction is huge. The relationship between potential consigning clients depends on the speed of the payout, which can be slow under normal circumstances. But with a 1st Dibs option, that type of exposure is potent and has value as tool to sell and rent (yes, we rent at Newel). A consignor would have confidence knowing that a dealer can handle the process of selling whether stored with the dealers own stock or even if still being used in a residence, be it art, jewelry, or furniture.
However, the member dealer profile must maintain some form of measured performance in order to be able to evolve and get better for the buyers. I have no idea what parameters 1st Dibs uses to select or reject potential and present listing members, but they seem to have a pretty good handle on that capacity. They have maintained a stellar growth pattern of attracting legitimate buyers and professional dealer members (as well as serious investors too).
March 10th, 2013 by admin
Wake up and smell the roses, and how many different colors for the same smell. The decorative arts too have so many designs and forms that all showcase human development. I can’t image being overly specialized or minimalized with what I might be living with in my home or office. Perhaps those two environments might compete with a car or other form of transportation, but the home can and should be a place to exhibit an open and creative mind.
When you go to museums like the Metropolitan, Louvre, or the V&A, you are exposed to so many diverse forms of human creativity. Just recognizing a phenomenon in nature is part of human understanding about the world we live in. While there are as many diverse human cultures as species of flowers, I can appreciate or at least be exposed to anything that surrounds me. However, in a home I can share and live with what fascinates me. And just like a museum, I can be the curator, collector, and decorator. I might also need some help!
I forgot to add one major problem with my or anyone’s aspiration for a perfect and ever evolving home environment, yes it is money. I suppose there is a lot of truth that money can’t buy taste, but there is no doubt that it can go a long way to satisfy that urge. Nevertheless, adding that part of the equation into factoring how one wants to live can be a defining parameter. A good eye or a thirst for knowledge can be priceless commodities that trump money. It should be all about the personal pleasure of learning, understanding, and being able to pass on knowledge if you do it at all.
My whole business career has been based on learning, understanding, and being able to pass on knowledge. I grew up seeing this as the best way to enjoy and participate in the industry. What is more exciting is the exposure to so much diversity of what was created for the human condition. From Greek pottery to Lalique glass, furniture made for King Tut’s tomb to a hotel designed by Gio Ponti in the 1950s, the evolution and footprint of human creativity is in our DNA.
I hope human passion does not atrophy with the diversions of technology or the impulse to keep things simple and minimal. Our minds should be programmed to search for creative diversions and the home should be where it starts. I have been hearing a subtle call by interior designers and even in antiques shows to be more inclusive and open to multiple periods and styles of design offerings. I hope this whisper turns into a roar. Acquiring knowledge and a more refined sense of taste allows for diversity of objects in the furnishing of a home, which can open more horizons of personal possibilities.
January 21st, 2013 by admin
There is reluctance in the Trade, about being able to attract new and especially younger people as to what we sell. Starting with the image of the word “antique”, what might that conjured up in the mind of a smart-phone packing 20/30 year old? We’re in an industry that specialized is turning off the next generation of potential customers with intimidation, abusiveness, and attitude.
Gaining the confidence of this budding generation of customers is going to require more than redefining a failed image. It will entail reaching out to them and trying to accommodate their curiosity. We at Newel are planning to get in touch with colleges and programs in design and art history with the offer of a tour and exposure to what we sell. We want young students (as young as possible) to touch the inventory and see the diverse and infinite possibilities.
We recently hired a summer intern straight out of college and I know this person feels not only lucky to have a job not modeled on the “gallery girl” image, but on making a difference in the industry. I want her and the gallery to be a gateway to attract a younger generation as to what we put on the market; it can’t happen by deception, intolerance, and lack of communication. Everyone should be considered a guest with all the appropriate attention to detail and tweaking for assistance. Why would we charge admission?
I find the admission pricing at upscale decorative and fine arts fairs to be a bit confusing. Sure the opening night gala is “for the benefit of …” but at $500, $1,000, $2,500 at ticket? For Young Collectors Night, it is down to $175. Regular admission is $20. For most students, the $20 is not chump change, like it is for those who attend opening night. And while the Met is based on a suggested “contribution”, auctions are free and so are the dealers own showrooms (if you can get past the door). Perhaps it might just be an opportunity for show promoters to think about expanding their sites beyond those who regularly attend the same circuit of shows with the same stable of dealers.
I doubt that the influx of college age and inquisitive young people (under 25) would cause havoc among the staid vendors purveying their goods. Maybe an additional 10 to 20% bump in attendees could cause a ripple affect among our disenfranchised youth who might actually enjoy the event and learn something about what we do, and not from reality TV. If this industry wants the next generation to collect and decorate with our products, we need to make our merchandise something they can touch, understand, and covet.
People in our industry must be pro-active to survive. Art Basel Miami has evolved into a must be place of energy, sprouting shows of dealers. There is a buzz of style, trends, experiences, and interaction. The international generation of under 25 is ready and willing, but we in the “antiques” business have to be able to make the effort to open any barriers to entry.
January 6th, 2013 by admin
The AAD (art-antiques-design.com) website has quite frankly, been publishing some of my “old blogs”, which somehow I find really refreshing. They make me think that this industry faces the same issues. However, I enjoy responding to some of the comments on my blog and making comments on other AAD blogs. There is as interaction on the challenges for the entire industry of dealers, auctioneers, museums, and of course the need of living with design for the public at large. It’s not 1stDibs, Artnet, or eBay, but it is interesting and relevant for participants who wish to comment on what is going on in these areas.
I’d like AAD to become a bully pulpit for anyone in the art, antiques and design fields. The three are and should be interconnected and operate seamlessly. My incessant call for auction and even industry regulation hopefully will get AAD’s readers attention. Their broader reach can give anyone an opportunity as a sounding board for their perspective or cause.
With this in mind, I found something from several years ago that I never published on my blog. I responded to an individual who had read my blog and had a bad experience with a New York auctioneer (not the first I have ever heard…). This person explained their situation with the auctioneer and then wrote:
“Do you know, by chance, about similar cases? Where should I address myself to (I live in Germany) , New York State Attorney? Consumer Affairs? Is there any special body in NY dealing with “misbehaviour” of auction houses?”
“Thank you for understanding why I despise both Sotheby’s and Christie’s, as they both created a classic duopoly that has no restraints. They deceive bidders with a secret reserve, and fix prices with a non-negotiable buyer’s premium along with a seller’s commission. Conflicts of interest and fraud are created at their whim.
It really comes as no surprise, and I think you have recognized where they put their biggest investment, the lawyers…
Remember, these two companies have withstood a class action of $½ billion. My friend, the only answer for them is government regulation, like a bank or insurance company. Nothing less will prevent a level playing field for all participants in a public auction.
As for advice, you have a battle that they have fought before and they usually will wear you down (like insurance companies). Perhaps Consumer Affairs in NYC might lend an ear. But fyi, Mayor Bloomberg’s wife sits on Sotheby’s board…
Good luck and I hope you can persevere.”