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U.K. Fair Owners Pursue Expansion Plans, Shrug Off Economic Worries

The new year has opened with the news that one of Britain’s most experienced art-and-antiques fair organizers is expanding, despite the continued uncertainty of the economy and the outlook for the art and antiques market. Last January, it was Sussex-based fair organizer Caroline Penman—who reopened the Kensing­ton Fair in West London—who was helping revitalize the

LONDON—The new year has opened with the news that one of Britain’s most experienced art-and-antiques fair organizers is expanding, despite the continued uncertainty of the economy and the outlook for the art and antiques market. Last January, it was Sussex-based fair organizer Caroline Penman—who reopened the Kensing­ton Fair in West London—who was helping revitalize the U.K. art-fair trade. Now it is Sue Ede, a 68-year-old veteran of Cooper Antiques Fairs in Somerset, who despite the recession has been building an extensive portfolio of fairs held in prestigious country venues.

Last year, Ede acquired the Buxton Antiques and Fine Art Fair in Derbyshire in an attempt to revive the once-respected event. This March she will take over the Tatton Park Antiques and Fine Art Fair in Knutsford, Cheshire. Held in the historic mansion and grounds of Tatton Park, the fair was “the event” for collectors in the area, said Ede. Recently, however, the fair seemed to have lost its focus on high-quality antiques, and Ede acquired it for a “substantial five-figure sum,” she said.

Ede’s fairs include the Powderham Castle Antiques and Fine Art Fair in Devon, which takes place next month, and the Winter Weston­birt Antiques and Fine Art Fair, held at the private Westonbirt School in Gloucestershire at the beginning of this month.

“Fairs are much more important to the trade than they used to be,” says Ede, “because a lot of the dealers don’t have shops anymore.” Among the attractions of the provincial fairs, she lists their ease of access and the cost of stands—one-tenth the cost of those at the big London fairs—which is better for dealers and help keep prices down for collectors.

The biggest provincial fair in the U.K. is the National Fine Art and Antiques Fair, which will be held this year at the National Exhibition Centre in Birmingham from the 20th to the 24th of this month. It is sponsored by LAPADA, The Associa­tion of Art and Antiques Dealers, whose members dominate the exhibitors’ list and help maintain a high standard for the offerings.

While the trend among fairs in the provinces is toward consolidation, in London, where the stakes are higher, the market has become much more fractured. With the demise of the flagship Grosvenor House Art and Antiques Fair in June, a many-sided battle to take its place is threatening to overcrowd the calendar.

Even before the Grosvenor House fair closed down, David and Lee Ann Lester, the owners of Florida-based International Fine Art Expositions, had moved to take control of its chief rival, the London International Fine Art Fair at Olympia in West London. The Lesters will increase the sizes and prices of stands at the summer Olympia fair in an effort to attract the highest-quality goods and customers. But in the United States the high end of their business has struggled, with plans for luxury fairs in Miami and aboard their $20million yacht being put on hold or scaled down to something less exclusive.

London-based dealers Brian and Anna Haughton, who run several highly regarded fairs in New York, are also facing challenges in the U.S. market. The Haughtons were the first to respond to the closure of the Grosvenor House fair, announcing plans to hold the new Art Antiques London, which will host up to 70 exhibitors in a purpose-built marquee in Kensington Gardens June 9–16. But last year, the Haughtons’ Asian-art fair in New York was cancelled because of economic concerns among the exhibitors, and now their flagship International Fine Art Fair, scheduled for April 30–May 4 at the Park Avenue Armory in New York, looks to be under threat, as well. According to the Antiques Trade Gazette, only 35 dealers took part last year, and the Haughtons had to subsidize the event with their own funds. They were still canvassing for exhibitors late last month, and dealers told ARTnewsletter that they are doubtful the fair will still take place.

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