The Open Art Fair

The first edition of The Open Art Fair opened in March 2020 but closed after only two days.

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The event, which effectively replaced the BADA Fair at Duke of York Square, has not taken place since its abortive showing in March 2020.

But the Duke of York Square has now been booked for a date after Easter next year and in the meantime the organiser is also in talks to stage another commercial event at some point later this year.

TOAF had been tainted by the inaugural event held in the turbulent week preceding the first lockdown. Around a quarter of the dealers who had booked stands chose not to attend, vetting was scrapped, attendance was low and the fair scheduled to run for more than a week closed on the afternoon of March 19.

Since then, organiser BADA Ltd has faced several legal battles with exhibitors over the payment of stand fees.

A judge had previously ruled that as the seven-day event had closed after two days, dealers Peter Cameron and Linda Jackson were only liable for two-sevenths of their bill. They were awarded a refund and costs.

However, dealer and organiser Thomas Woodham Smith, who co-owns the fair with stand builder Harry Van der Hoorn and the British Antique Dealers’ Association, says that the legal cases that followed have all been settled.

Speaking to ATG, he said: “I can’t get away from the fact that I have a certain amount of bad feeling over the fact we had to charge people over the stands. I’m not going to try and pretend it’s not the case.

“We would all have liked to just have returned everybody’s money, but it just wasn’t possible. But of the 100 or so dealers we had [exhibiting], 80 or so would still like to have a fair.”

Dealer surveys

Recent surveys by LAPADA and BADA suggest there is an appetite among members for a London showpiece fair. In past years, dealers who wanted to sell good-quality stock at a large fair in London without Masterpiece or Frieze stand prices had several options.

This year they are much more limited (Art & Antiques Olympia runs this year for five days from June 22-26).

LAPADA announced last month (ATG No 2532) that rising prices made holding an affordable fair in London almost impossible. Under the terms of the sale to TOAF, BADA is restricted from holding a directly competing event within the M25.

Aware of these calls for a high-quality London event, Woodham Smith now hopes to draw on the support of the trade bodies to create a fair of around 150 exhibitors to run in London at least once a year. To that end, he says, he and his fellow organisers are “actively looking” for ways to stage another event.

Like LAPADA, he has found that costs have risen dramatically. However, he hopes that a solution to the problem will come in the form of something similar to the Decorative Antiques and Textiles Fair in Battersea, with its large exhibitor base, long-running location and many supporters.

Woodham Smith adds: “I need to find a new model of giving people a chance to sell at a place where the top people will come and buy.”