A previous edition of The Open Art Fair which was held in Duke of York Square, Chelsea.

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Organisers Thomas Woodham-Smith and Harry Van der Hoorn informed exhibitors last week that the event had been pulled from the calendar

It was planned to run in Duke of York Square in Chelsea from April 19-23.

However, the brand continues and Woodham-Smith says that they will work with trade association British Antiques Dealers’ Association (BADA), which owns a 20% stake in the fair, to find a new time and place to run.

“It is expensive to run in that time and place [that it was planned],” he told ATG. Stands were to cost £895 per square metre, or £743 for BADA members.

“There is definitely a market for a fair that caters to dealers who would have stood at Olympia or sell at the top end of the Battersea fair,” Woodham-Smith added.

“There are dealers who need a fair.”

For now, he says, they will look at either spring or summer dates and avoid the crowded autumn calendar, which includes events such as the LAPADA Fair and The Northern Antiques Fair.

“Insufficient interest”

After a last-minute campaign to get the fair across the line, Woodham-Smith took the decision to call it off.

He said in a statement: “With great regret we have to report that there is not sufficient interest from exhibitors to justify The Open Art Fair this year, in spite of many committed dealers whose enthusiasm should not be undervalued.”

It was to be the second staging of the fair, which had its tumultuous first run on the cusp of the first lockdown in March 2020.

Woodham-Smith added: “While we, the organisers, were prepared to subsidise the fair in order to promote it in its infancy the amount required was too onerous.”

BADA said in a statement: “Having already lost popular events such as Masterpiece and Summer Olympia from the 2023 calendar, the postponement of the 2023 The Open Art Fair will come as a disappointment to dealers and collectors alike. Clearly the spiralling costs of stand-building and the risk to exhibitors of an unpredictable market are having a major impact on the viability of trade events.

“The BADA was established as an advocate for the British antiques trade and as such, we are continuously reviewing the wider shifts in the UK art market which does include the feasibility of events like these.”

New event

Separately – as reported in ATG No 2580 – Woodham-Smith and Van der Hoorn had already announced the launch of a new summer fair in the same site as Masterpiece London, after the flagship event was shuttered at the beginning of the year. However, the organisers say that the creation of the new event, The London Summer Art Fair, had no bearing on the decision to cancel TOAF.

TOAF has its origins in the BADA spring fair. In 2019 the trade body sold a majority stake in the fair. However, opening as UK Covid numbers began to soar, the inaugural run saw around a quarter of the dealers who had booked stands not attending, vetting scrapped and attendance low.

Scheduled to run for more than a week, the fair closed after just two days. There followed legal disputes over stand cost payments.