THE International Ceramics Fair and Seminar organised by Brian and Anna Haughton, is now a venerable institution. In its 22 years, it has established a worldwide reputation for top-notch English, Continental and Asian ceramics that are sold against a backdrop of a lecture series by leading specialists in their field that are enjoyed by serious collectors, museum curators and other academics.
But this grande dame has gone through some dramatic changes in recent years. A general ageing of the dealing and collecting base for English and Continental porcelain was coupled with several of the fair’s Asian exhibitors moving to Olympia and four of its English ceramics dealers deciding to eschew fairs in favour of showing in their own shops. As a result the numbers had shrunk last year to 26 exhibitors.
The solution has been a complete makeover for this year, involving a new venue, a new look and an exhibitor split into two distinct fairs. London’s Commonwealth Centre on Kensington High Street is the chosen location with the space divided between the International Ceramics Fair and Seminar, now devoted totally to European ceramics and the London Asian Art Fair, which offers Asian ceramics but has also been opened up to include works of art as well. The two fairs run concurrently and share the circular tiered floors of the centre’s exhibition space with a vertical rather than horizontal division, being subtly distinguished by colour coding: black for the European ceramics exhibitors, red for the Asian ones.
In total the Haughtons’ new venture has 31 participants, 17 in the European fair and 14 in the Asian fair, of which ten were new names. This year’s fairs ran for the usual four days, from June 11-14, but opened on a Wednesday and closed on Saturday.
So how did things progress? The ceramics fair has always had its loyal devotees but given that this was a new launch in an unfamiliar venue in a year when economic conditions have been difficult and the all-important American buyers have been thin on the ground, expectations have to be realistic. So the hoped-for opening queue was there as usual and business was undoubtedly done, but it will probably also come as no surprise to learn that fortunes were mixed. Some people had done very good business from the outset, others had found the going very slow and several said they were feeling the lack of Americans.
The degree of success didn’t divide on clear Asian/European lines. Both fairs had satisfied customers and both had people who would like to have done better.
One general consensus was that the venue itself was a great success and that the Haughtons’ layout worked well, with all the stands clearly visible from the central standpoint and none of the lost or ‘dead’ areas that could be a problem in a hotel venue.
Amongst those who had very successful fairs were Robyn Robb and Brian Haughton, both of whom, significantly, had produced special exhibitions for the fair for which they had dispatched catalogues in advance. Like last year, Robyn Robb had seen an opening day rush to her stand and sold 15 out of 16 of her special consignment of James Giles decorated pieces from the collection of Anthony Wood. Paul Crane at Brian Haughton Antiques said they too had an early morning queue and sold to British and Americans on a 50/50 basis.
Kensington Church Street specialist Errol Manners had a very busy fair and on Friday when I visited had done good business. He sold Chelsea, Meissen and Chantilly at prices up to £20,000. Among the Asian exhibitors Malcolm Fairley had sold a major piece of Meiji metalwork and more decorative objects and was visited by old clients that he had not seen for a while. He said he would be happy to do the fair again as did Nicholas Pitcher, another Asian dealer who enjoyed good sales.
After the opening, Saturday was busier for many than the weekdays and most felt the opportunity to offer an entire weekend would bring a benefit in visitors (next year’s fair will run from Thursday to Sunday). Standwise, it would be nice to increase numbers to fill another of the building’s circular tiers which would undoubtedly give the fair a busier feel without detracting from the open airiness and good sightlines of the current layout.
European ceramics at this top end of the market is not such a growing and fashionable field as Asian works of art and there was much talk at the fair of the possibilities of increasing the size of the Asian fair element of this double bill to replicate the Haughtons’ successful New York International Asian Fair in March.
There are undoubtedly many visitors in town who would be interested, especially with the additional draw of London’s main summer Asian art auctions, but unlike New York in March, London in June already has a crowded fair schedule so potential Asian exhibitors are faced with a plethora of choice.
But there is undoubtedly potential for growth at the Haughton’s new venture and it will be interesting to see how it develops.
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