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Hitherto, it has been held in a beguilingly salubrious tent across from its new home at the newly built Palm Beach County Convention Center. There was some nostalgia for the tent, but when the new fair was unveiled at the vernissage on January 29 there was a definite wow! factor.

The fair looked stunning with ample stand space and an elegant, glamorous layout. By the time the fair closed on February 8, enough of the 88 exhibiting dealers, who included a good number of the world’s finest, had done enough business to prove the event had substance as well as style.

Glamour, as you might expect from the world’s richest resort, has always seemed to me a major factor in this fair’s rapid rise. It was first staged eight years ago by the controversial entrepreneur David Lester, whose evangelical style of selling and promotion may have seemed occasionally to verge on the psychotic but certainly proved effective.

Lester had a vision that this stretch of Florida’s Golden Coast, which from Christmas to Easter must have the greatest concentration of disposable income in the world, could sustain a serious art fair.

When the event was bought three years ago by the Daily Mail Group, its future seemed more or less assured. The new owner’s desire for a top-of-the-tree international fair backed by vast resources did not absolutely guarantee success, but it boded well.

However, in the adverse economic circumstances of the past couple of years, there were difficulties, although the fair always retained its retinue of very top exhibitors.

This year, the fair was back up to a healthy tally of 88 standholders and they made sufficient sales to make it likely that the fair will only grow from here.

Certainly this year’s staging marked a new era. David Lester was well out of the frame and the new organiser Lorenzo Rudolf emphasised he would “have to rebuild confidence and reorganise” in the post-Lester era.

Rudolf has an impressive pedigree, including Art Basel and the Frankfurt Book Fair. Being Palm Beach, this fair will always have a decorative edge but the new organiser is determined to give it a more academic backbone and a core of Old Masters.

That intention was apparent this year with the fair’s promotion centred on Maastricht dealer Robert Noortman’s Rembrandt, priced at $25m.

Incidentally, Donald Trump did not, as rumoured, buy the Rembrandt, but he did seriously look at it. Trump is the kind of buyer you see here, along with many other super-rich American names that come to mind.
Paintings sold well, with Richard Green, Noortman, Bernheimer-Colnaghi and MacConnall-Mason selling extremely well. Certainly millions of dollars were taken by individual art dealers.
Art Deco and 20 century design sold spectacularly well and while some period furniture struggled there were sales and some very notable after-sales in the period furniture department.

The fair had a better balance than ever this year with the welcome addition of tribal art and icons, both of which enjoyed significant sales. The aim of the owners is to go even further upmarket and increase the quota of top dealers and top stock.

To this end, the fair has created a new advisory committee of exhibitors comprising, among others, Veronique Bamps, Konrad Bernheimer, Peter Finer, Henry Neville, Robert Noortman, Benjamin Steinitz, David Mason Jr and Axel Vervoordt.

And by next year, expect the inclusion of some high-end Contemporary art to further enhance the status of the fair.

Not everyone enjoyed good sales, but I think everyone had a good fair, and the top names will be back.

On a more mundane level, if Lorenzo Rudolf continues to combine his lofty ambitions with keeping down costs, he is on to a real winner.

He surprised a few of us when he revealed that this year’s stand rates were the same as last year’s, and he hoped to maintain them at that level next year. A good start for what is destined to become an American Classic.