FLORIDA-based fairs entrepreneur David Lester has set his sights on a pivotal role in the future of the Olympia International Art & Antiques Fair.
During this year’s staging, the 36th edition of which closed on June 14, he had talks with Simon Kimble, chief executive of Clarion Events, owners of the Olympia antiques fairs, about a joint venture to run the flagship Summer Olympia.
It is understood Clarion are taking the proposal very seriously and at least some tie-up is expected. Lester was much in evidence throughout the fair, where he had taken a stand to promote his American company IFAE (International Fine Art Expositions), although it was assumed he was just canvassing for his three Florida art fairs and his exhibition yacht Seafair.
But by the end of Olympia there were rumours that he was also in discussions with Clarion to take the helm in the organisation of the summer fixture in West London, starting in 2010.
The day after the fair closed David Lester informed ATG of his ambitions following recent discussions with Mr Kimble, and later in the week his plans for the future of Olympia were common knowledge, even if unofficially.
Lester said no deal had been finalised but that the Clarion team were in favour of his concept.
Broadly, it would be a joint venture with Lester and his wife Lee Ann leading the organisation and direction of the 2010 summer fair with Clarion providing operational support in London.
There would be staff in London and America, and according to Lester there would be some type of joint ownership.
Lester’s ambitions for the Olympia Art & Antiques Fair include creating a uniformly high-end exhibitor list, having a dealer advisory panel with a real say in vetting, marketing and fair construction, and attracting major sponsorships and partnerships. Again the talk was of making Olympia a major international event attracting an attendance comparable to TEFAF Maastricht or Art Basel– double the numbers it does now.
When ATG contacted Clarion last week, a spokeswoman for Simon Kimble said there had been a discussion at a single meeting but no agreement. But she added that “it is on the cards that there will be some sort of a business tie-up with David Lester, it is a serious consideration”.
However, no details have been thrashed out on Clarion’s part and at present Mr Kimble, show director Freya Simms and the senior Clarion team are in customary meetings centred on a post-summer fair debriefing.
The future role of Freya Simms will be part of the details discussed regarding a tie-up between Clarion and IFAE. With David Lester stating he will lead the organisation, it is unclear where that would leave the present show director if she remains with Clarion in London. Ms Simms told ATG she is, for the present, concentrating on the post-fair debriefing but these other areas will be explored and decisions made in a matter of weeks.
David Lester is best known for founding the grand fair in Palm Beach now known as the American International Fine Art Fair. In 2001 he sold it to DMG for $18m and last year bought it back for a rumoured $1-2m.
Lester’s organisational and promotional abilities are considerable and he is much admired by many at the top end of the international trade. He maintains his leadership at Olympia would be well received by many dealers.
Certainly, some of the high-end exhibitors like Vanderven, Alan Rubin of Pelham, Jorge Welsh and Michael Goedhuis would welcome Lester. But they are the same coterie who have been most active in pushing Clarion to move relentlessly further upmarket.
But, however effective it may be in Florida, there must be doubts as to how well David Lester’s brash, inspired, almost evangelical style of galvanising a fair would go down with the majority of Olympia exhibitors.
By David Moss
This year’s Olympia fair is reviewed in the Dealers’ Diary in this week’s ATG printed newspaper (issue 1896). To subscribe, click here.
Antiques Trade Gazette is the weekly bible of the fine art and antiques industry. Read articles like this every week in the Antiques Trade Gazette or ATG app. Click here to subscribe today.