Early on, fears abounded that Brexit and the accompanying political turmoil would spell disaster for the London market as it commenced one of its busiest periods.
As the fairs went on, however, it became clear that, in its general outline, 2016 was a summer like most others. The familiar fluctuations of the fairs carried on almost as normal with success for some exhibitors and struggles for others across Art Antiques London, The Art and Antiques Fair, Olympia and Masterpiece London.
- Art Antiques London: June 24-30 (preview on June 23), Kensington Gardens, SW7
- The Art and Antiques Fair, Olympia: June 28 – July 3 (preview on June 27), Olympia National, W14
- Masterpiece: June 30-July 6 (preview on June 30), The Royal Hospital Chelsea, SW3
From the first day of Art Antiques London, the first of the three fairs to open, exhibitors balanced anxiety with optimism.
Exhibitors across the fairs were soon referring to the drop in the Pound as the “10% American discount” (or 8% or 15% depending on the day) as an incentive for US buyers.
As the fairs went on and dealers such as Quantum Contemporary (AAL), Clive Loveless and Pearse Lukies (Olympia) and Rupert Wace (Masterpiece) made major sales to American clients, the appearance of the advantage seemed to be justified.
Freya Mitton, Mod Brit specialist, was an exhibitor at AAL who was speculating on what the vote meant for business only hours after it was reported.
“In the short run, people don’t really come from overseas to buy Mod Brit paintings. But,” she said with a smile, “who knows, maybe in the long run it will bring a big wave of national pride and suddenly loads of people will want to buy Mod Brit.”
Porcelain dealer John Howard (AAL) had a different reason to remain confident: “We all deal in fairly unique things. If you want what you’re looking at and you’re a serious collector, will a slight advantage on the exchange rate really make a difference? Especially at this level of quality.”
The people who had come to London to buy would buy, he said.
Quiet on the West End front
Still, there was some fallout.
Most notably, exhibitors found a lower footfall across all three of the fairs with many buyers proceeding with caution.
Masterpiece, for example, which reached a record visitor count of 40,000 last year, was down to 37,000 this year.
Sidonie Metherell of Portland Gallery noted that attendance had seemed steady but lower. She added that, while the gallery had a good Masterpiece, all of the paintings they had sold by the last day were under the £40,000 mark.
For exhibitors who normally deal from home, such as Andrew Sim of Sim Fine Art (AAL), one of the main reasons for exhibiting at fair is to meet new clients. For exhibitors like Sim, a lower attendance rate can frustrate fair ambitions. He too made sales, but reported that these were mainly to existing clients.
Keep calm and carry on
On that first day of AAL Mitton said, “I’m optimistic about AAL – it’s a nice long fair and there’s time for things to settle down.”
And, for the most part, they did. By the following Monday, June 27, exhibitors at AAL reported that there was a noticeable increase in activity.
Further West in London that Monday, Olympia opened to its preview audience.
“I was concerned of the impact Brexit may have had,” says Robbie Timms of S&S Timms, who exhibited at Olympia, “but not once during the entire week did a potential customer trot out the ramifications of Brexit in their lives as a reason not to purchase an item or spend any money.”
In fact it was all, he says, “rather refreshing.”
“We had a good Olympia,” said David Hickmet of Hickmet Fine Art who have exhibited at the fair for around 15 years, in a tone of mild surprise that could be any doubt.
On June 30 Masterpiece opened. That Wednesday, the only day when all three ran simultaneously, was acknowledged by several as one of the liveliest days for any of the fairs.
Each fair hosted its own selection of high-profile visitors from museums and the wider world as well. Masterpiece reported that the Metropolitan Museum of Art (New York) purchased two pieces for their new British galleries, while AAL were attended by dynastic potter Kakiemon XV – as well as Carrie Fisher and Annie Lennox.
And so each fair continued in a familiar way, each following a slightly different path and each bringing varying levels of success to their individual dealers.
Australian-based silver consultant and valuer Jolyon Warwick James visited all three fairs.
“Olympia and AAL are excellent fairs for art and antique collectors. Masterpiece looks towards a slightly broader base of high-end consumer expenditure,” he said, giving particular praise to Olympia for its new look this year.
“There might have been a momentary gasp and clutching of the wallet on the day of Brexit. But quite possibly it will not impact on changes that will take place with time anyway,” he added, citing cyber selling and changing consumer tastes as the real long-term market challenges.
Ultimately, the resilience of the three fairs is a reminder that London remains a place where the right buyers can meet the right exhibitors from all over the world.
Look out for key sales and figures of all three fairs in Dealers’ Diary during the coming weeks.