Falkiner, 85, has been vetting art and antiques fairs for 50 continuous years and marks the anniversary with another stint on the Frieze Masters vetting committee for the event running from October 13-17.
“I tell people that to be a vetter you have to be 90% diplomatic and 10% knowledgeable”, he jests. “You certainly have to be polite and charming. You are looking at an object for a very short time while the exhibitor has been looking at it for months. You have to practise polite humility.”
Falkiner’s first fair was just before he left Christie’s as head of antiquities in 1972 when he was asked to vet The Grosvenor House Art & Antiques Fair.
More recently he has had to contend with the limitations of the pandemic and has vetted online for the past two summers on what he describes as the “magic lantern” of his computer.
Over the years he has lost track of how many items he has vetted and how many fairs he has worked with. More recently he has worked on every Frieze Masters and regularly works with Masterpiece and Olympia and several other fairs on and off.
Although he knows the value of how to deal with awkward situations with exhibitors, if there is a disagreement on a particular piece, Falkiner is clear that his two objectives are to “protect the public and the fair’s reputation” so “consequently you have to have tremendous tact”.
“I am proud to say that of all the fairs over the 50 years I can only really remember three serious rows”, he adds.
The decisions have to be made quickly on the day but working as a team means panel members can work together and vote on possible contentious items.
Falkiner concludes: “It is as good a system as possible given the circumstances. Collectively vetters do a pretty good job.”
Richard Falkiner, a consultant across the art, antiques and antiquities, has also worked with Antiques Trade Gazette since before the launch of issue number 1 and continues to write on coin sales for the paper.