Many dealers are taking unconventional, often collaborative, approaches to business, from outdoor showcases to street parties to online projects. Here we look ahead to what the capital will offer in late summer.
August is usually the quietest month for the London trade. Dealers often shut up shop, taking advantage of the break between early summer events and the autumn’s busy fairs schedule. This year, however, following the pinch of lockdown and facing uncertainty in the back half of the year, many are doing things differently.
When porcelain dealer Serhat Ahmet was forced to cancel plans for both his summer and autumn events, for example, he decided to take matters into his own hands.
He had planned to celebrate the opening of his new Cecil Court shop with a summer exhibition. It was timed to coincide with the bustle of buyers that normally descend on London in June and July to attend Masterpiece, The Art & Antiques Fair Olympia, London Art Week (LAW) and the major summer auctions.
All that changed. Masterpiece ran online, summer Olympia was rescheduled to next year and LAW launched a virtual platform. Galleries were permitted to reopen only from July 4, and even those staging shows held them relatively quietly and by appointment only.
Ahmet decided to hold back his highlight pieces to show at the LAPADA Art & Antiques Fair in September – but that was also postponed until 2021.
However, rallying the other art and antiques businesses on the historic Westminster street, Ahmet launched the Cecil Court Summer Showcase. On August 15, dealers on the street are to fill the large Victorian fronted shop windows with their best and newest stock. Visitors to the pedestrianised street will have the chance to attend a sort of outdoor, single-aisle fair.
For Ahmet, this showcase was an ideal solution: a chance to exhibit some top items as well as the small Cecil Court community itself of which he is the newest member.
“We have these beautiful shops and all this stock that we’d been holding back for the big London summer,” Ahmet tells ATG, adding that it is the line of large frontages that defines this art and antiques mini-district. “We can’t do an event that involves drinks and food like we would wish to, but this is a way of exhibiting our new-found or held-back pieces.”
Participants include silver specialist Daniel Bexfield, Colin Narbeth & Son, the London Medal Company and Darnley Fine Art as well as Essex auction house Sworders, whose London office is based here.
Tim Bryars of Cecil Court map specialist Bryars & Bryars said: “With no book, map or antique fairs going on, it’s one of the few places where the public can enjoy pre-lockdown style browsing, across a range of rare and antiquarian books and maps, art and antiques.
“The expertise and quality of material on offer makes Cecil Court a great place to shop at any time, but at the moment the experience of being here feels more precious than ever.”
Any other year, a mid-August date would be a hopeless time to run an event. The influx of foreign buyers who come to London for the major fairs depart quickly, while locals take the summer holidays as a chance to escape the capital.
However, several pockets of London dealers have demonstrated that this year – especially when an event requires stock at hand, no extra outlay and a bit of collegial spirit – it is worth running on into the summer.
Over in the west
Across town in west London, the Kensington Church Street Art & Antique Dealers Association launched the inaugural edition of its summer showcase online in mid-June. The event, with the theme ‘Fit for Royalty,’ has been extended until the end of August as dealers gradually reopen premises.
Over in Mayfair and St James’s, LAW participants hung their exhibitions in early July, opening by appointment, and many will keep them up at least until the end of the month. Some, such as Colnaghi, will run longer still. Its Golden Age of Spanish Modern Art continues until September 25 (see box on following page). Meanwhile, the LAW website will maintain individual dealers’ stock pages well into the autumn.
Also in Mayfair, several Modern and Contemporary galleries have contributed works to the exhibition Block Party, staged by The Arts Club on Dover Street. Running until September, this brings together works from Robilant + Voena, Galerie Thaddaeus Ropac, David Zwirner, Cardi Gallery and other local firms.
For each dealer, the decision of whether to exhibit now or to hold off until autumn is tricky. Much depends on each trader’s knowledge of its client base. Unknown factors could tip the scales. For example, restrictions have rapidly been lifting in England, which could mean that clients will start returning before the autumn.
Mark Dodgson, secretary general of BADA, said: “It may be possible that with quarantine restrictions having been removed for visitors from a number of countries some foreign buyers might surface. It’s also hard to judge how many UK-based buyers will leave the UK over the next few weeks for last-minute holidays. If they remain in the UK, then it could be good for business.”
If buyers are around, being as available as possible could be key. “While the UK is slowly coming out of lockdown, the reality is that our high streets are still quiet in comparison to the pre-Covid-19 era and consumer confidence is low,” says LAPADA CEO Freya Simms.
“We therefore very much feel that dealers should be continuing to channel as much resource as they are able into projects, exhibitions and other marketing activations that give consumers a reason to visit them – be that in person or online.”
Some dealers feel that August will remain its usual quiet self. Colnaghi CEO Jorge Coll says that despite running its current show from July to September, the gallery is focusing on the autumn.
“While footfall is always quieter during the summer, we have put a concerted effort into our digital initiatives, videos, social media and VR projects, which have enabled us to maintain a connection with our clients during this difficult period,” Coll says. “We look forward to continuing to advance these initiatives in September for our forthcoming show.”
Nigel Talbot runs the Covent Garden shop Grosvenor Prints, which has continued to release monthly catalogues, with another due this month.
However, he is holding back the ‘blockbuster’ catalogue he planned to release in May until September. “August is always a dead month,” he said. “People will try to go away if they can. They might be buying but they won’t be coming to London. They don’t want to go on public transport.”
His major catalogue usually draws visitors into the gallery to inspect works first-hand and he’s willing to wait to show it off if it could mean more visitors willing to come through the shop.